Ford's SYNC in-car communication system
Ford’s SYNC in-car communication system. Click image to enlarge

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By Frank Rizzuti

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Ford’s updated SYNC system

Dearborn, Michigan – At a recent North American International Auto Show Preview in Dearborn, Ford demonstrated how its SYNC in-car entertainment and communication system will be evolving well beyond its initial application as a hands-free, voice-activated system for making phone calls and listening to music. Developed by Ford and Microsoft, SYNC is currently standard equipment in most Ford vehicles and optional (approximately $800) on some lower trim lines.

When Ford began researching ways to adapt smartphone mobile applications for in-car use, it turned to the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus for innovative ideas. A team of six computer science students and their professors created iPhone-like applications that are safe to use at highway speeds, and Ford foresees having an “App” store online where customers can purchase applications for their vehicles’ SYNC system to suit their individual needs. Also available will be all of your current smartphone applications to interface with SYNC, allowing social networking (Facebook, Twitter), entertainment and music to be controlled via SYNC.

Ford's SYNC in-car communication system
Ford’s SYNC in-car communication system. Click image to enlarge

The alliance between Ford and the University of Michigan has allowed six students the use of Ford’s Developers’ License, making them the only six mobile app developers in the world licensed to use the SYNC API, and have created two SYNC-enabled mobile applications. The students sorted through more than 100 different concepts, previously developed by Ford’s API (application programming interface) development team, and narrowed their focus on two areas: audio infotainment and GPS location-based navigation services. The two apps that were developed are called “SYNCcast” and “FollowMe”, and although these applications are not planned for immediate integration into SYNC, they point the way to future SYNC functionalities.

SYNCcast lets users access internet radio (internet music, news and talk show streaming sites) and FollowMe allows two or more friends to follow a lead vehicle to a location without the need to physically follow each other, thanks to GPS turn-by-turn directions transmitted from the leader to the followers and read aloud to the drivers. The students demonstrated both of these technologies, at the Dearborn Preview, with the use of a mock-up SYNC system and both appeared to operate effectively within existing SYNC technology.

Ford's SYNC in-car communication system
Ford’s SYNC in-car communication system. Click image to enlarge

Some of SYNC’s current features include 911 Assist and Vehicle Health Report. These applications were added to SYNC in 2008, and in 2009 Ford created the Service Delivery Network (SDN), a plug-and-play architecture connecting six data centres for data-over-voice exchanges allowing real-time Traffic, Directions & Information (TDI) to be “Beamed In” via a Bluetooth-paired mobile phone to the SYNC system. This is a free service for the first three years of 2010 model year vehicle ownership. (Whether this will be available in Canada is yet to be determined.)

Also being introduced in 2010 is the new MyFord (branded as MyLincoln on Lincoln products) driver connect technology, which redesigns the in-car interface and mimics how consumers interact with most devices, using touch sensitive screens, thumb wheel controls and voice recognition. Using customizable displays and simplified voice commands MyFord can present multiple layers of information, including navigation, climate controls and infotainment on an eight- inch touch-screen.

Ford's SYNC in-car communication system
Ford's SYNC in-car communication system
Ford’s SYNC in-car communication system. Click image to enlarge

Some features that will be available are: an eight-inch touch-screen centre stack with a four corner solution for its layout, representing the four most important activities: phone, navigation, climate and audio/entertainment functions; a media hub which incorporates two USB 2.0 inputs, RCA A/V input jacks, Secure Digital (SD) card slot, allowing card-based navigation systems requiring no expensive hardware or “head unit” electronics upgrades; WiFi capability, including Internet “hot spot” connectivity and a built-in browser for use while in “Park”. Also the capability to use USB-installed air card or a USB broadband modem and USB connected keyboards; phonebook contact photo download with 3-D carousel browsing and birthday reminders.

MyFord will arrive later in 2010 on the redesigned 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossover and in 2012 will appear on the all-new Ford Focus. Ford predicts that by 2015, 80 per cent of Ford’s North American models will have MyFord driver connect technology with similar figures predicted for rest-of-world markets.

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