Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and TechShop, the world’s first and largest membership-based do-it-yourself workshops, have kicked off a collaborative effort to open a workshop in the Detroit area that invites innovators, from backyard tinkerers to software engineers, to come in and invent the next must-have in automotive technology.
A membership-based open-access concept started in 2006, TechShop, at www.techshop.ws, offers creative minds of all kinds affordable access to space, tools, and machinery so they can dream up, design and develop prototypes of their latest inventions. To date, TechShop has locations in California and North Carolina, with more than 800 total members.
Ford and TechShop first met in May at the largest DIY event of its kind, the 2010 Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif., where Ford was invited to show off its “American Journey 2.0″ open-innovation vehicle app project with University of Michigan students. That gathering ignited the idea for the matchup that has taken form in less than three months.
“Ford has taken a leadership role in tapping ideas from outside the automotive space, including with academia, consumer electronics and information technology companies, to help create powerful first-to-market technologies such as Ford SYNC,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, group and senior technical leader, Ford Infotronics Research and Advanced Engineering. “Why not extend those opportunities to individual inventors and the maker community as well; asking them to embrace the vehicle as a possible platform for their ideas.”
Ford technical leaders also shared the company’s vision on individual inventive contributions and how Detroit-area entrepreneurs can play a part during the Detroit Maker Faire held at The Henry Ford in Dearborn last weekend.
“The talent pool and level of skill and knowledge in and around Detroit is incredible,” said Bill Coughlin, president and CEO of Ford Global Technologies, the domestic auto industry’s only internal licensing group. “TechShop can provide a physical hub for this inventive community, allowing us to connect with them in a way never done before.”
Ford is the first automaker to collaborate with TechShop, said Mark Hatch, TechShop CEO, who said the Detroit area is “full of … makers, hobbyists, backyard mechanics and general tinkerers that we have been trying to enter for more than a year.”
Ford said the TechShop collaboration is further evidence of its adoption of the open innovation model made popular by social media, software developers and technology companies.
In recent years, Ford’s outreach to automotive outsiders for ideas has included a who’s who list of academia, suppliers, consumer electronics and information technology companies. That list also includes more unlikely suspects, such as consumers and software developers.
Last spring, for example, Ford actively engaged consumers to submit, share and suggest ideas and technologies on the “Your Ideas” section of the Ford brand interactive consumer Web site, www.thefordstory.com. The pilot session generated some 3,600 submissions, giving consumers the ability to participate in a community-based setting where they could review and rate posted ideas and track what people thought about their own suggestions.
And, more recently, Ford announced the creation of a virtual community to engage software developers to innovate around Sync. Interested developers can visit www.syncmyride.com/developer and click to submit their innovative ideas, and sign up for the latest information and news about the upcoming Sync application programming interface and software development kit. Through July, nearly 800 app developers have signed up.
In theory, the collaboration with TechShop is an easy extension of the individual engagement fostered by open-source initiatives such as “Your Ideas” and the new SYNC developer network.
“With TechShop, we are bringing the concept of individual involvement to life in a physical space where people can develop their ideas, create prototypes and display them,” said Coughlin.
Ford also hopes that the TechShop will inspire its own Detroit-area engineers, designers and scientists to innovate on their own time. “Inventors don’t have access to the same type of equipment or tools during off-hours as they do during work hours,” said Hatch. “We want to offer them an affordable place to go that has the necessary equipment and resources to make their inventive ideas a reality.”
Ford said it also sees the broader business potential of TechShop and streamlining the process for inventors looking to not only make physical prototypes of their ideas but license their technology to the masses.
“We want to create a mercantile exchange of innovations and ideas – a one-stop shop where makers can dream, design, develop and license their innovations for the real world,” said Coughlin. “We want those dreams to come to life right here in Detroit.”
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