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!

Change itself is changing

Change.

We cannot avoid it. Yet we seem to invest more efforts into attempting to shake it off, than we do embracing it. We dress it up in alternative guises, “trends”, “cycles”, “disruption”.

@deb_lavoy sums it up wonderfully in these words:

A new perspective is changing how we think about society, politics, interpersonal relationships, science, government and business. New approaches are emerging. Learning and self-expression are exploding. Values are changing. Leadership is changing. The economy is changing. Change itself is changing — it is accelerating and becoming the norm.

Why write?

Writing Apparatus
Writing Apparatus by Kazarelth

Following my last entry Balancing the use of our time, and Henry‘s thoughts building this out Share more, learn more, the following quote provides a timely reminder on the importance of writing for work:

As soon as you move one step up from the bottom, your effectiveness depends on your ability to reach others through the written or spoken word. And the further away your job is from manual work, the larger the organization of which you are an employee, the more important it will be that you know how to convey your thoughts in writing or speaking. In the very large organization, whether it is the government, the large business corporation, or the Army, this ability to express oneself is perhaps the most important of all the skills a man or woman can possess.

As John Stepper explains in his post:

This isn’t from a modern communications expert or blogger. It’s from Peter Drucker. And it’s from 1952.

Drucker saw that organizational effectiveness increasingly depends on finding, sharing, and building on the best ideas. And for that to happen, those ideas have to be discoverable – that is, written down. Now, more than in Drucker’s day, it’s easier to publish your work and make an audience aware of it.

And while writing helps your firm, it also helps you. By publishing your ideas and opinions, you shape your reputation – who you are, what you do, and how well you do it. And that greater visibility helps unlock opportunities that would never be open to you otherwise.

Time to dust off the quill and ink then!

I’d recommend taking a moment to read John’s post, and his tip to writing more. Be warned, I’m going to try to apply it!

Balancing the use of our time

Balancing the use of our time

Balancing the use of our timeEarlier today I began reading Julien Smith‘s epic post on getting what we want, and whilst I haven’t yet read it all, the following stood out to me:

the way your time should be spent is largely like a pyramid, with a wide base of learning, with a smaller level of acting on top of it, which is directed by the learning, and then on top of that, an even smaller level of writing about it. If you begin to live your life differently than the pyramid should be built, it becomes unbalanced and topples over.

This made a lot of sense to me, and after sharing the thoughts with a colleague, was prompted to put it into a visual.

I’ve interpreted the words “acting” and “writing” as “doing” and “sharing” in an attempt at clarity in case it is taken out of context with Julien’s original explanation

Thanks Julien!

Twitter Updates for 2011-04-20

  • good idea in principle, but will calorie count on restaurant menus be accurate, or need policing? @bhc3 @SameerPatel #health #
  • RT @nachobarrientos:Met @sscullion today. He is indeed a very good speaker and passionate about his job. Keep going that way dude! <gracias! #
  • @nachobarrientos thx for the compliment, was great to be able to talk to you guys today. Glad the passion came through! 😉 #changetheworld in reply to nachobarrientos #
  • @vsmith1 sorry to hear you're in hospital, I hope things improve and you're on the mend and out of there soon in reply to vsmith1 #
  • RT @andysc: Fascinating early-morning discussion on the ferry with @ellenmacarthur < you get an autograph for me!? #
  • Conny Talbot vs. Adele http://bit.ly/hWCYI6 #
  • RT @wearelondon: We're recruiting Digital Strategists right now! Great team, clients and remuneration <one for #twitterjobchallenge perhaps? #
  • work laptop off the productivity scale this morning. the wrong end. #FAIL #
  • RT @andypiper: The Dropbox TOS change is going to be interesting for those using it for temporary storage for anything "corporate". #

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Twitter Updates for 2011-04-18

  • Why do long weekends always seem so short after the fact!? #
  • enjoying watching my five year old daughter getting creative using #gimp #
  • @pgularte just a three-day work week here this week, so not too many complaints! 😉 in reply to pgularte #
  • @j4ngis that logic would mean the effect is further compounded by sunburn… check! in reply to j4ngis #
  • Huge congrats to #CSC colleagues @dawnrob and @brtnz for their London marathon efforts! #

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