Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ford: First Online Road Devices

Or maybe First Online Road Death? That last is a little unlikely, but in the realm of possibility. Ford is bringing a new meaning to "mobile device," and adding to the list of web-enabled devices. With Microsoft, Ford developed Sync and started putting it in some Ford vehicles in 2008. Sync allows you to connect bluetooth phones or USB devices like MP3 players to your car and control them with voice commands. It's a really neat bit of technology, but Ford wasn't satisfied to rest on their laurels.

Kevin Spiess report on, "Ford to use Windows CE in some 2011 models." With the functionality of a full OS, Sync will become more powerful, offer more control options, and will provide wifi connectivity for web browsing when parked. As delivered from the factory the web browsing will only work when the vehicle is in park, but I figure about 2 weeks (or less) after the first wifi enabled Ford is delivered there will be a way to activate browsing while driving.

But as surprising and innovative as wifi enabling a car may be, what is more impressive is that Ford is thinking about security long before implementing wifi in the cars - both to protect users data and to protect the system from malware that might endanger the car and it's occupants. That's important since connectivity will include social networks and other high risk locales.

The security features are pretty decent. A hardware firewall between the engine computer and the entertainment computer is one nice thing. They can't totally separate the two because they need to share things like GPS data and highway speed, to name a couple of things. To help protect from malware Sync will only accept software from Ford, and it won't allow installation through the wifi connection. There are other features to keep your data safe in your car.

And the security doesn't just cover electronic assets. There are features that will make Ford vehicles with Sync unattractive to thieves, too. Engine immobilizer keeps the engine from turning over unless a coded key is used, and a keycode allows the car to be opened even if the keyfob is left in the car.

Ford is taking a lead position in bringing the automobile to the internet, and vice-versa. It will be interesting to see where this trend goes over the next few years.