At CES 2013 Ford released the Ford OpenXC SDK for Android developers. This SDK is designed to allow smartphone applications to access your car's sensor data. Before you get too excited, this SDK will not allow your smart phone to actually control your car. So the dream of driving your car from the back seat using your Android phone has yet to be realized. But in the mean time, developers will have the chance to bring a plethora of handy apps into your life that will give you lots of information about your car. The possibilities are endless, and undoubtedly clever developers will come up with ideas that are much more creative than anything that has been mentioned so far. But besides being able to check the level of your gas tank before you head out the door to work in the morning, or getting a push notification when your car is due for an oil change, you might also be able to track how your driving habits are effecting your car's fuel efficiency.
If some of this sounds familiar, it might be because Ford had already released the SYNC AppLink API for SmartPhones. This was a proprietary feature that Ford had integrated into some of its newer model cars that would allow users to better hands-free use of their smart phone. But the OpenXC SDK, as the name implies, is open source and is available to other car manufacturers as well as developers. This is a new approach from the closed ecosystems that most car manufacturers have been developing over the last several years. It seems that Ford is hoping that this SDK can become an industry standard that will allow marketers, manufactures and the other "big data" usual suspects to learn more about our driving habits.
Certainly collecting this level of detailed data will all lead to privacy concerns will need to be addressed. But lets not forget that "big data" is what has brought us many of the free Google services that most of us can't imagine living without. And as roads become more congested, traffic engineers and urban planners could have access to unprecedented levels of detail that would show them how to design better and safer roads. Not only could this new SDK lead to innovative, useful apps that might save you money, it might even make your commute to work faster.
I think the real question is: how did it take this long for someone to release something like this? Most of the people I know that have a GPS built into their cars forgo using it most of the time because Google Maps is so wildly superior to the proprietary software that most cars are running these days. Smart phones have so much connectivity and ease of use that even with practically unlimited space and a 1 year production cycle, car manufactures have failed to bring most of the basic features that are smart phones have to our dashboard. It's encouraging to see Ford using an open, collaborative approach to seek to foster innovation, and I can't wait to see what developers do with these new opportunities.