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Ford and open innovation

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Ford and open innovation

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It’s probably fair to say that Detroit hasn’t been known for its innovation over the past few decades, with the big three car companies struggling enormously in the years leading up to the credit crunch.  So it’s incredibly pleasing to see the extent to which Ford have unleashed their shackles and delved headlong into open innovation.

For instance, back in 2012 they enrolled core customers into a rapid feedback program, which would allow the company to get much quicker input from customers into their latest models.  They followed that a year later with the launch of OpenXC, which was an attempt to ensure as much of the data behind their cars gets utilized as possible.

The system was developed because Ford cars were producing all of this data that was essentially being wasted.  Historically however, access to this data has been restricted, with what wasn’t wasted being protected by the manufacturer.  OpenXC aimed to change that and allow developers access to this data to develop add-ons.

Building on from the original success of that project was the recent announcement of the launch of the Innovate Mobility Challenge Series, which will see developers and innovators come together to find novel mobility solutions in eight locations around the world.

“Reaching out to local stakeholders lets Ford more effectively address the diverse mobility challenges around the world,” said Paul Mascarenas, Ford’s chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation. “Launching our Innovate Mobility Challenge Series in eight different regions will bring global and local players together in the pursuit of one goal, which is a smarter and more efficient transportation network for the future.”

There are currently three competitions open, each with a prize fund of $30,000:

  • The parking challenge wants to reimagine parking in Los Angeles, with developers encouraged to ask how can Los Angeles outdoor surface parking lots be repurposed to increase their variety of uses, or aesthetic value, while enabling parking in the city?
  • The city mobility challenge focuses on logistics in Lisbon.  developers are asked to consider how can big, real-time, or system-integrated data be used to deliver goods and services in congested streets like those in Lisbon?
  • The monsoon challenge takes place in India, and asks developers to consider how transport can evolve to cope with the kind of rainfall common throughout the country.

The open innovation initiative is all built upon the OpenXC platform that has rapidly grown over the last year.  The Innovate Mobility Challenge Series encourages developers to integrate real-time vehicle information into apps that relate to sustainability and mobility issues, whether by incorporating the data into existing apps or creating new apps from scratch.

“The OpenXC platform gives developers access to more than 15 types of vehicle data, including those related to vehicle speed, engine speed, fuel-level, and things like whether or not the windshield wipers are on or if a door is open,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader, Open Innovation, Ford Motor Company. “With these challenges, we’re reaching out to the best minds in the developer community, because we know that no single company or individual holds the answer. Local problems need local solutions, and we want to encourage that.”

In addition to the cash prizes on offer, there are some other carrots dangled in front of developers.  For instance, the Argentine challenge is also offering winners a scholarship for an Entrepreneur Postgraduate course at an Argentine university, together with meetings with Ford mobility engineers in the US.

The competition is open to both individuals and organizations with fewer than 50 employees, although larger organizations may still participate, but will do so for the non-cash Large Organization Recognition Award.  It’s yet another nice example of how Ford are encouraging innovation from whatever source it may arrive.

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