MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — When people think of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., names such as Microsoft, IBM, Cray, Apple and Google come to mind. Today, those technological luminaries are joined by Ford as curators add the Sync in-car communications and connectivity system to the museum’s permanent collection.
“We are honored,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president of Ford Research and Innovation. “Sync has helped us move faster than what is usually assumed of an automaker, providing a new level of openness and access that has forever changed how we look at our business and respond to our customers. Ultimately, Sync embodies what Ford is all about: going further to transform innovative ideas into products that are affordable, attainable and valuable to millions of people.”
Said Alex Bochannek, curator and senior manager of the Computer History Museum: “As cars have transformed into mobile platforms for consumers’ communication and entertainment needs, the intersection of automotive and computing developments is becoming an increasingly important area for the museum to consider. Ford Motor Company’s collaboration with Microsoft on Sync technology is an example of this changing landscape.”
Sync is the award-winning in-car connectivity system that provides voice control for mobile phones and digital music players connected via Bluetooth or USB. Ford co-developed the system with Microsoft using the Windows Embedded Automotive platform.
“When we first teamed up with Ford nearly a decade ago, we knew we wanted to develop a system that connected consumers’ digital lifestyles to the vehicle they love today, and seamlessly for years to come – regardless of the device,” said Kevin Dallas, general manager, Windows Embedded at Microsoft. “Having Sync inducted into the Computer History Museum’s collection is a testament to the system’s groundbreaking innovation and to all of the hard work of our engineers, both in Dearborn and Redmond, to deliver a product that continues to meet consumers’ evolving needs and exceed expectations.”
Sync debuted in the 2008 Focus, Ford’s most affordable car offering at the time, as a $395 option.
Within two years, Sync became available in every new Ford Motor Co. product. By early 2012, more than 4 million Sync-equipped vehicles were on the road. By 2015, that number is expected to grow to 9 million as Ford introduces the technology into products around the world.
The Sync software platform has provided for a regular cadence of new features, many of which have been made available to customers as a simple downloadable update they can install at home or by visiting a local Ford dealer.
New features have included:
* 911 Assist (2008) – an automatic emergency calling feature that uses the customer’s Bluetooth-paired cell phone to directly call 911 if there has been an airbag deployment.
* Vehicle Health Report (2008) – an on-demand diagnostic report that gets produced on-board the vehicle and sent via data-over-voice through the customer’s cell phone in order to be accessed through the www.syncmyride.com Web portal.
* Sync Services (2009) – with the addition of a GPS module to the SYNC module inside the car, Ford created an off-board network of service providers that could be accessed with a simple voice command, “Services,” leveraging a customer’s mobile phone voice plan for voice-activated, personalized news, traffic, turn-by-turn navigation, weather reports, business search and sports scores; only a few months later, more services were added to the cloud-based network, including on-demand horoscopes, stock quotes, movie listings and travel information.
* Send to Sync (2010) – using Sync Services, customers could now send a destination address from either MapQuest or Google Maps straight to their car for easy download of turn-by-turn directions.
* Destinations App (2010) – building on Ford’s cloud-based network of services, the first smartphone app for Sync was launched adding a new level of convenience for customers so they could search for and input destinations, even check traffic, while away from their car.
* AppLink (2010) – the groundbreaking feature that helped Ford be first to voice-activate and control smartphone apps, such as Pandora and Stitcher, by working with developers in their own native programming languages and leveraging the Sync application programming interface (API); there are now 10 Sync-enabled smartphone apps across all three major mobile platforms: iOS, Android and BlackBerry OS.
Sync was born in 2005, when Ford was looking for ways to change both its perception and its culture.
“We saw connectivity as a way to change that paradigm,” said Doug VanDagens, now global director of Ford Connected Services and an early team member working on the Sync project.
At the same time, Microsoft was breaking into the automotive market with its Windows CE embedded operating system.
To view a video about the beginnings of Sync, visit http://youtu.be/CGP9j9iYzww.
In April 2005, both Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and then-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates were featured speakers at the Microsoft Global Automotive Summit in Dearborn. The pair started to discuss how they could collaborate on bringing state-of-the-art connectivity into cars.
While consumers replaced mobile phones and digital media players every couple of years to keep up with the latest advances, vehicles typically lasted a decade or more. Relying on an embedded system could leave a car hopelessly outdated long before the end of its useful life.
Rather than force owners to pay for another wireless plan for their vehicles, Ford pursued connectivity platforms that would allow drivers to use the technology they already carried with them.
“By the end of 2005, Ford’s Electronics and Electrical Systems Engineering group started active development of a platform that could be kept up to date with the latest technology trends throughout the life of the car,” said VanDagens. “With Windows CE as the base, we could add new functionality through apps that owners could download from the Web and install with a USB flash drive.”
Collaborating with suppliers, including voice recognition leader Nuance, they developed a robust and easy-to-use voice interface. This enabled drivers to make and receive phone calls and select songs, artists, albums, genres and playlists all while keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
By January 2007, Sync was ready to take center stage with simultaneous announcements at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. To view video of the CES presentation visit http://youtu.be/PCpec1sa_UM.
Designing the system around connecting to mobile devices proved to be fortuitous almost immediately. Just two days after the initial Sync announcement, Apple introduced the iPhone. Within just a few years, smartphones went from a tiny niche to dominating the mobile phone market.
With hundreds of millions of people using phones running a wide array of apps able to stream media over fast wireless connections, Sync was poised to take advantage.
“Sync ultimately became a turning point for the redefinition of the automobile from just an ordinary transportation device into a technology platform that empowers consumers to take advantage of the latest innovations,” said Venkatesh Prasad, another member of the early development team and now senior technical leader of open innovation for Ford Research and Innovation.