Have You Jailbroken Your Ford Lately?

At a not-too-distant point in our future, this will be a serious question. Today Ford and Bug Labs announced that they are jointly supporting the first open source car software. Think of it as your car's API. You'll need to install a small $40 piece of hardware to interact with the car systems, and the effort, called OpenXC, is making this data available to both Android and Arduino platforms. What can you do for starters? Things like read real-time data about your car's position and speed, and a dozen other measurements about your car's performance. "OpenXC opens up a previously opaque environment to an entirely new class of developers, who will bring more ideas and solutions to the table than any one company or industry consortium could dream up," according to information posted on the site.

Back in the day, we had to do mods on our vehicles the hard way: with timing lights and crescent wrenches and a lot of getting grease on our hands. Now, through the miracle of software, you don't even have to step into the garage. One suggestion from the site is to better tune your GPS antenna. Any data feeds from the car will be isolated from the actual operations and vehicle control systems, so you can't do damage to the vehicle. And you thought you just had to worry about distracted driving?

Here is an example of one app already built to monitor your fuel efficiency:

The first beta kits will be soon sent to various university engineering teams and independent developers, including WeatherUnderground.com and HCL Technologies in India.

Ford has been building upgradeable firmware into its cars for several years now, indeed the new cars get their latest update as they are passing through the assembly lines, which are equipped with Wifi-routers to beam the updates directly to the cars. Ford and Bug Labs aren't the first, and certainly not the last effort to try to introduce more open source auto software: the Oscar project has been around for more than a decade, working with the folks at Technology Review magazine.

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