Ford puts cloud services at heart of Evos concept car

Navigation and entertainment are already key differentiators for cars: cloud computing will be the next, Ford says

Ford's Evos concept car shows how the company is increasingly looking to electronics and entertainment to keep customers hooked on driving its cars, Chief Technical Officer Paul Mascarenas said Thursday.

Ford's Sync connectivity system, linking drivers' mobile phones or media players to in-car entertainment, climate control and navigation systems, is already shipping in some models, but Evos will show how those functions can be enhanced by connecting them to the cloud, Mascarenas said on the eve of the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) consumer electronics show in Berlin.

"We want to make the user experience such that customers can't imagine driving anything other than a Ford," he said

The Evos itself isn't on show at IFA -- it will make its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show later in September -- but Mascarenas spoke enthusiastically about how the hybrid car's contactless charging and wireless access to services in the cloud could make driving safer, simpler and more exciting.

In this dream car, streaming music playing in the home will follow a driver as they get into the car, which will already be at a comfortable temperature and ready to go. The car will negotiate wirelessly with toll booths and police vehicles for the right to use lanes reserved for electric vehicles when running on electric power. And perhaps most fancifully for drivers living in gridlocked urban areas, the navigation system will suggest more exciting, traffic-free alternatives to a driver's regular commute. If the driver accepts the suggestion, Evos will automatically adapt its handling and performance.

"The car instantly becomes a more aggressive, low-riding performance machine," Mascarenas said.

Evos will also respond to drivers' past behavior and preferences, he said. For example, if a driver likes listening to fast rock on mountain roads, then Evos will shuffle the music collection, "only playing rock above a certain BPM," he said. If things get too exciting or stressful -- as determined by a contactless heart rate monitor built into the driving seat -- then Evos will remove distractions by blocking phone calls and messages and limiting the display to essential functions such as the speedometer and rev counter.

In Mascarenas' dream, as the Evos driver enters the city through the inevitable layer of smog, the car will access weather and pollution data to pick the cleanest route in, taking control of the throttle and brake in stop-go traffic to allow the driver to catch up on some e-mail. And as the car approaches its destination, it will access cloud services to reserve a parking space with a contactless charger and navigate to it before parking in just the right spot.

Some of those technologies, minus the cloud elements, are already available. For example, Ford has already sold 3 million cars with Sync in the U.S., according to Mascarenas.

European drivers will soon get their chance to use Sync, as Ford adds other languages to the user interface and voice recognition system. It will be available in 19 languages, nine of them European, and will understand 10,000 voice commands in each language, he said.

Around 250,000 owners of Sync-equipped cars have already updated their software, according to Pim van der Jagt, managing director of Ford's European research center in Aachen.

That update capability is important, he said, because drivers replace their cars every five or six years, while entertainment and navigation systems evolve far faster.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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