Ford cars to become open-source crowd-enabled modular products

Tuned Pontiac console
Lego Jeep Wrangler
It’s modular!

Only yesterday I was discussing with friends and colleagues potential impacts of 3D printing, how a number of trends and technology advances are combining to put us as the consumer at the centre of product experiences, providing us with unprecedented choice and the ability to co-create as active participants in the design, configuration and even the manufacturing of our purchases.

A coincidence then that up pops an article on RWW about how Ford is looking at cars becoming “open-source crowd-enabled modular products”.

“Let’s say you don’t like these steering wheel buttons. Maybe you could slap in a capacitive touch controller,” he said. “Using this platform, people would, by themselves, be able to design things.”

Tuned Pontiac console
Tuned Pontiac console

Nice idea I thought, but haven’t we been “tuning” cars forever? How does this differ? I’d like to be clear on what I mean by “tuning”, and once again Wikipedia’s definition serves our purpose:

“Car tuning is a generalized term referring to the act of improving the performance or appearance of a vehicle….. Most vehicles leave the factory set up for an average driver’s expectations and conditions, tuning on the other hand, has become a way to personalize the characteristics of a vehicle to the owner’s preference”

D7K_1835
Sparkly Merc

Sounds pretty similar, so what are Ford up to? Reading on I learn that Ford’s research lab aims to:

enable innovators – even those with limited resources and technical chops – to see the automobile as a platform for creativity.

1950 Mercury
1950 Mercury

That certainly made me sit up. This sounds more significant than a nice gesture to the minority of car owners adding a bit of chrome and a body kit – with respect to all the creative and talented folks customising their wheels! –  and is talk much more in line with some of the trends thinking I mentioned earlier.

In the next few months, Ford expects to release the beta version of its car app developer kit. There are already more than 1,000 developers waiting to be notified when it’s ready. At that point, this lab’s work will shift to supporting and growing a community of car hackers. “We’re interested in spurring the creation of an ecosystem,”

"Iles de Paix" modular polyhedra
Community! Ecosystem!

There we go, a “community”, an “ecosystem”, I had a feeling these two might get a mention, we can’t be going anywhere these days without them! Seriously!

But again, we might argue this is nothing new in the world of car-modding. Even as someone who has never even replaced the pommel on a gear stick, I know that there are magazines to buy, meetups to go to, engine tuning services, and a myriad of shiny but loud exhaust pipes, carbon fibre trim, LED lights, the list goes on….

The difference as I see it – and it’s an important distinction – is in the use of the word “developer”.

Ford’s OpenXC API runs on a combination of Arduino and Android platforms – technology chosen to make modding your car as easy as programming a smartphone. The system can potentially access the 1,000 or more data points, generated by sensors on Ford vehicles and served up via the 16-pin onboard diagnostics port (a standard feature of all cars since 1996). The Ford toolkit encourages development of software as well as add-on hardware.

AnalogTestArray
Moving into the social, networked era…

This is taking car tuning into the social, networked era. You may think it rings of putting domotica on four wheels. Indeed, it may start with a lot of that. Yet the number of sensors churning out data will continue to grow, those 1,000+ data points exponentially. The possibilities for innovative new features begin to rack up.

Why not imagine a heads-up display incorporating real-time GPS-located braking distances based upon crowd-sourced braking distances and speeds from other motorists driving the same road?

Whilst I just came up with the idea to illustrate a point, I’d wager on it not being particularly original. T.J. Giuli – who runs the Ford lab – we can assume has many of his own. Yet even he recognises this is already something with significant momentum behind it, likely driven in a large part by the passionate car tuning community.

“Tons of people are already making car apps that work with OBD2 readers, or replacing the center stack with their own car computer. That’s happening today, and there’s nothing that anybody can do to stop it. So, it’s a good idea for OEMs like Ford to make this really easy. Hopefully, we can benefit customers with a lot of awesome new features.”

Don’t believe him? Take a quick look at DashCommand on Apple’s app store….

Whilst taking our car purchasing choices and configurations well beyond the current website-based, more marketing focused attempts can only be a good thing, what I find interesting here is the extent to which approaches like this have to potential to bring significant additional value over time.

Modular manufacturing
Modular manufacturing

There are the obvious categories such as efficiency, safety, but what about some that are potentially more challenging? it remains a reality that a car purchase is an irregular event for many of us, particularly in today’s economic climate – again, something we could argue is a good thing. Yet our transport needs change over time, whether it be lifestyle, location, children….

I’m optimistic that initiatives like this from Ford can gain the legs necessary to see innovative strides forward. Wouldn’t it be good if where we are able to re-configure aspects of our cars to help cope with those changing needs rather than simply have to go out and buy a new one….

As it turns out, that is not a new idea either! Whilst browsing for images to illustrate this post, I turned up one of Dave Gray‘s wonderful drawings, with the following details:

A US-based company named Wikispeed has adopted a modular approach with the design of the SGT01, a car designed as a modular platform which will empower suppliers to innovate freely. Each part of the car is a component that fits into a standard interface.

It will be interesting to watch this evolve.

Recommended further reading:

If you got this far and found it even remotely interesting, Dave Gray‘s article “The future is podular” is much better!

MS Excel moving with the times

Over the last few days I have been spending more time in MS Excel than can be considered good for my health! As I tweeted this morning, this has obviously hasn’t been without its frustrations!

I don’t often use Excel for more than basic stuff, but this time I am putting together a front end to a simple reporting tool in our internal Confluence wiki. More to come on that in a later post, but allow me to get this off my chest first!

First up, I wanted to do some string concatenation. Easy I thought, only to find out that the CONCATENATE() function does not allow a cell range to be used as a parameter!

Google to the rescue, where I came across this great little snippet of VB which does the job nicely:

'*****************************************
'Purpose: Concatenate all cells in a range
'Inputs: rRng - range to be concatenated
' sDelimiter - optional delimiter
' to insert between cell Texts
'Returns: concatenated string
'*****************************************
Public Function MultiCat( _
ByRef rRng As Excel.Range, _
Optional ByVal sDelim As String = "") _
As String
Dim rCell As Range
For Each rCell In rRng
MultiCat = MultiCat & sDelim & rCell.Text
Next rCell
MultiCat = Mid(MultiCat, Len(sDelim) + 1)
End Function

Next I wanted to create some links between workbooks. Easy right!? Its easy enough to create the links, but I didn’t like the full filepaths it was using:

C:\Documents and Settings\User\My Documents....\

So I went to look for a way of creating relative links….

It turns out that in some areas, Excel hasn’t exactly kept up with the times. This article gives us some insight:

it just can’t be done in Excel. A *LONG* time ago Microsoft wrote the original Excel version 1 for 512K Macs. Those beasts had a nonhierarchical file system and mostly only one floppy drive and no harddrive, so there could only be one file open with a given base filename. And Microsoft decreed this was Good & Sufficient, and it hasn’t changed at all since. Yes, all OS’s under which the most recent 3 or 4 versions of Excel runs now have hierarchical file systems spanning multiple local and networked drives, but Microsoft seems not to care to expend the resources to bring this bit of Excel functionality out of the mid 1980’s.

So a dead-end there then! 🙁

The same article goes on to finish with an assessment of things….

Excel simply hasn’t evolved from its original implementation in this respect. It’s nice to imagine Microsoft fixing this, but it probably won’t happen until well after they provide built-in support for flashing text. Microsoft seems to prefer adding eyewash to adding serious features that have been in competing spreadsheets for over a decade.

Sad, but likely true. I had to chuckle, rather than cry.

“New-Generation Workers” Want Technology Their Way

Today I caught a discussion on the findings of a survey carried out by Accenture.

Millennial generation students and employees (those aged 14 to 27) expect to use their own technology and mobile devices for work and are increasingly choosing their place of employment based on how accommodating companies are to their personal technology preferences

Yet more evidence demonstrating how our consumer technology choices are making their way into the workplace, meaning that the companies that best accommodate these demands will gain a competitive advantage through attracting, and most importantly, retaining, the best young talent.

Observing this, it appears we are increasingly demanding in our requirements for consumer technology, increasingly fickle with our choices and loyalties, and increasingly adept at managing the change new technology presents us.

Yet this often goes against our corporate mandated use of technology, where we are stuck in our old ways, show blind loyalty to old technology, and told that change is painful and risky! (I’d love you to chip in with candidates for each category! ;-))

So why is this still the case?

Will the “Millennial generation” win over their elders?

RIM, RBC and Thomson Reuters to Anchor a $150 Million BlackBerry Partners Fund Focused on Investing in Mobile Applications and Services

I have been dabbling in the Balckberry applications area for quite some time now, and for those of us interested in this stuff, thie following looks like a big announcement.

I will be following this with some interest, particularly with regard to how it keeps the pressure on Apple with their iPhone.

Toronto, ON (May 12, 2008) – Research In Motion (RIM) (TSX: RIM; NASDAQ: RIMM), RBC (RY: TSX; RY: NYSE) and Thomson Reuters (NYSE: TRI; TSX: TRI; LSE: TRIL; NASDAQ: TRIN), today announced plans to launch the BlackBerry® Partners Fund, a US$150 million venture capital fund, to invest in mobile applications and services for the BlackBerry® platform and other mobile platforms. The Fund is to be co-managed by JLA Ventures and RBC Venture Partners.

Agnostic to both stage and balance sheet, the BlackBerry Partners Fund will not restrict the development of mobile applications and services to any single mobile platform or any specific industry segment. The Fund will be designed to advance the industry by fostering development and driving the entrepreneurial spirit to create the most innovative mobile offerings for customers.

“The mobile world has evolved well beyond phone calls and simple messaging to require more empowering and liberating solutions that connect people to everything that matters most to them, wherever and whenever they want,” said Jim Balsillie, Co-CEO, Research In Motion. “RIM, RBC and Thomson Reuters share the common belief that mobile applications and services will propel the industry forward and the BlackBerry Partners Fund is being formed to help fuel innovation and activity in the mobile ecosystem.”

“Thomson Reuters is committed to supporting the development of next generation mobile applications that will provide our professional and business customers with anywhere, anytime capabilities,” said Devin Wenig, Chief Executive Officer, Markets Division of Thomson Reuters. “The ability to make business critical decisions with intelligent information available on mobile devices will give our customers a clear competitive advantage.”

“The BlackBerry Partners Fund will focus on evaluating companies in all regions of the world and investing in the long term success of those that demonstrate market leadership and unique differentiation,” said John Albright, Managing Partner of JLA Ventures, who will also assume the role of Co-Managing Partner of the BlackBerry Partners Fund. “Whether it’s access to corporate data or the latest craze in mobile entertainment, we want to fund companies that are forerunners in driving adoption and further enriching the mobile experience.”

“The BlackBerry Partners Fund will be a catalyst for the development of next generation mobile applications and services,” said Kevin Talbot, RBC Vice President and Managing Director of RBC Venture Partners, who will also assume the role of Co-Managing Partner of the BlackBerry Partners Fund. “The BlackBerry Partners Fund will focus exclusively on mobile applications and services and our close alliance with RIM will bring unparalleled access and value to our portfolio companies.”

FullPress Release

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Mozilla software really is cross-platform

So I have my ubuntu linux system up, running and online. So now the next challenge. How do you go about pulling across from WinXP your most important files, which for me are my email and bookmarks?

Easy! If you’re like me and using mozilla Thunderbird and Firefox!

And when I say easy, it really couldn’t have been easier! I am talking of simply copying two folders. Yes, a simple copy and paste!

So I thought I’d write this up, firstly to remind myself if one day I have to rinse and repeat, but also on the off chance someone else stumbles across this whilst trying to do the same thing. It would be nice to know this helped someone somewhere, or there is any way of making this even easier! If so, please leave a comment and say hi! Oh, and check out my little disclaimer before blaming me for breaking something!

I started with a quick search on google, but it didn’t really come up with anything concrete. So I took the plunge and said, well, lets see if this works. My steps were basically what I thought as a logical extension to the backup method you will find in the google search above.
So just to explain the tricky bit in a little more detail(no, thats not a gotcha!), what to copy, and where to paste it.

Firefox

  1. Open Firefox on your linux systym and make sure you’re online. This will ensure you have a profiles folder created. Don’t bookmark anything new, as we’ll be over-writing this.
  2. Copy the folder containing your profile folder in WinXP to the clipboard if you are able to see these files in linux (I was as my ubuntu installation mounted my windows partitions! Cool huh!). If you can’t access your windows files from your linux system (maybe you’re moving to another pc) copy them to a usb pendrive or some other media you can then access in linux. I mean the whole folder, including the following three files/folders:
  • Profiles folder
  • pluginreg.dat
  • profiles.ini

Mine were located in C:\Documents and Settings\User\Application Data\Mozilla

  1. Find the folder containing your profile in linux. Mine was here: home\.mozilla\firefox (you may need to check you have selected the option to view hidden files)
  2. As I had already been using firefox on my linux system, I had a profile created anyway. I created a new folder “temp” and moved all the existing files there just in case.
  3. Paste your files copied from WinXP into this folder (not the temp folder!).
  4. Now rename the pluginreg.dat file (I called it pluginreg1.dat) and move the original back out from the “temp” folder. Otherwise firefix won’t start up. I found this one out the hard way. I am guessing it is because the plugins are different on linux and windows.
  5. Start firefox!

Yes, thats it! You should now have all your extensions, bookmarks, history, passwords, everything. Just as it was in WinXP!

Thunderbird

I actually did this one first, as I was dreading having to recreate all my accounts and export/inport all my email and contacts. I shouldn’t have worried!

  1. Open Thunderbird on your linux systym and make sure you’re online. This will ensure you have a profiles folder created. I don’t think you need to bother creating a new account or anything new, although I did whilst investigating.
  2. As for firefox, copy the folder containing your profile folder in WinXP to the clipboard or a usb pendrive. Again, I mean the whole folder, including the following three files/folders:
  • Profiles folder
  • profiles.ini
  • registry.dat

Mine were located in C:\Documents and Settings\User\Application Data\Thunderbird

  1. Find the folder containing your profile in linux. Mine was here: home\.mozilla-thunderbird (you may need to check you have selected the option to view hidden files)
  2. As I had already been using thunderbird, I had a profile created anyway. I created a new folder “temp” and moved all the existing files there just in case.
  3. Paste your files copied from WinXP into this folder. (not the temp folder!)
  4. Start thunderbird!

I’m getting repetitive, but again, that should be it! All your email, accounts, contacts and extensions up and running on linux!

Disclaimer!

I managed this with no real idea whether it would work or not, and I certainly have no idea whether it is the “correct” way of going about it! I can say it worked for me, and I don’t consider it risky as long as you keep your original files in linux. Your WinXP configurations are obviously untouched.

What amazed me is how simple it was to move it all from windows to linux, and I guess any other supported OS.

Mozilla software really is cross-platform! Great stuff!