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Software Transportation Upgrades Technology

How Ford Will Upgrade Owners' Display Screens 215

Posted by timothy
from the changing-focus dept.
gManZboy writes "'Sometime early next year, Ford will mail USB sticks to about 250,000 owners of vehicles with its advanced touchscreen control panel. The stick will contain a major upgrade to the software for that screen. With it, Ford breaks the model in which the technology in a car essentially stayed unchanged from assembly line to junk yard' — and Ford becomes a software company. This shift created a hot new tech job at Ford: human-machine interface engineers — people who come from a range of backgrounds, from software development to mechanical engineers, and who can live in the worlds of art and science at once."
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How Ford Will Upgrade Owners' Display Screens

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  • by decora (1710862) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:31AM (#38108020) Journal

    yup. sounds about right.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by peragrin (659227)

      FORD uses Microsoft software for it's screens. of course it needs updates. they are probably software patches to keep the damn things from crashing so often

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:31AM (#38108024)

    "people who come from a range of backgrounds, from software development to mechanical engineers, and who can live in the worlds of art and science at once"

    did MLK write the summary?

    • Re:what a summary! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:46AM (#38108068)

      Workplaces like that are very common today. They're basically two or three American mechanical engineers, coupled with two or three American software developers. They usually have one good manager a level above them, but then another 15 or so useless managers above that. Then there are the 85 off-shore software developers who collectively are less productive than the two or three American software developers. Aside from getting their own assigned work completed, the American software developers also have to do or fix the work assigned to the off-shore developers. But since this whole off-shoring idea was originated by one of the 15 useless middle managers, it's untouchable and can't just be discarded, although it's a complete waste. Then there's a 'user interface designer' that the software developers have to fight with daily. This poor fellow dropped out of art school and somehow became an expert in UIs. He wants to spend all day adding curved corners and gradients to every part of the UI. Then he decides to drop menu bars, status bars, and other useful UI functionality like that, because it's not 'usable'. The software developers battle with him constantly over his stupid ideas, but this designer is the son of the brother of one of the middle managers, so he stays around although he's a complete waste.

      • Re:what a summary! (Score:5, Informative)

        by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:10AM (#38108186) Homepage

        This.

        Offshoring, in my experience over the past 3-4 years, has been more trouble than it is worth. The time you spend babysitting these novice developers eats up whatever you "saved" by paying them 1/4 of your local wage, and it drives that project manager absolutely batshit insane. And then it takes them at least twice as long to do anything.

        I often get the impression most of these guys can't be bothered to think for themselves. If you tell them "Add a newsletter subscription form", they will add the form, sure, a form that does nothing when you click Submit. It doesn't matter that the same guy has been working on your site for over a year, he's still not going to realize you didn't just want an inert form on your website. If you then say "make it insert into the database", hey great, now it's inserting into the database - in some random table that isn't the subscriptions table! So the net result is you practically write p-code, which they then thinly translate into Java or PHP or whatever.

        Some shops can apparently tolerate this level of mediocrity. We've tried offshoring a few times, thinking maybe we had bad luck the first few times... nope, always the same bullshit, so that's why I now know how to configure and script Asterisk IVRs. We wanted to pay someone to just get it done since it was well outside our expertise, but in the end we had to do it over from scratch because all the offshore contractors we hired were complete imbeciles - so much for calling themselves Asterisk experts!

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          So the net result is you practically write p-code, which they then thinly translate into Java or PHP or whatever.

          If you do it a certain way it's not so bad. The good but expensive programmer writes the stuff in precise English. It then gets compiled by some Indians into Java/.Net.

          Then the good expensive programmer goes off to write something else while a cheaper bunch of people maintains the crap :).

          If you really want to offshore work and not just "compilation", I think you should skip the "cheap" Indians, the Eastern Europeans are much better, they charge more but at least they're better than AIs- you still need to b

        • Re:what a summary! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by swalve (1980968) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:37AM (#38108280)
          Ask culture versus guess culture. You expect them to guess as to what is necessary to make the subscription form work, and they expect you to ask for what you want.
          • Re:what a summary! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Nemyst (1383049) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @11:26AM (#38108526) Homepage

            Sorry, but no.... Just no. He asked for a form that does a specific task. If the form does not do this task, then this isn't about guessing, it's that they're incompetent.

            • by swalve (1980968)
              No, if you read his comment, he (said he) asked for a form and nothing else. He assumed they were going to guess that he wanted all the other stuff too, they assumed he would be smart enough to ask for exactly what he wanted. "Make a form" != "Make a form that accepts email addresses and submits them to the subscriptions table in the database"
        • by Lumpy (12016)

          Most companies love medicore as it had higher profit margins. Even high end companies like Crestron are doing it. I have Crestron gear that is from 10-12 years ago that still runs perfectly. Yet new stuff I install for customers have a 35% failure rate. OR they dont work as reliable as they should. All of crestrons IP enabled WifI touchpanels are complete crap. Even their flagship TPS-6X is not reliable. out of 60 I have installed 30 drop connections or fall over at random times, and all of them hav

          • Re:what a summary! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by smpoole7 (1467717) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:56AM (#38108372) Homepage

            It's not that they love mediocre so much as the "15 PHB Managers" mentioned above delude themselves. They've also been taught that the *perception* of quality is more important than the reality. "Sell the sizzle, not the steak," convince the customers that you're the best and there you go.

            They honestly don't know any better, because they've never actually built anything. All they know how to do is maximize profits. It's not just the software, either, it's the hardware. In spades. Some salescreature from Asia will waltz in and say, "I can build your gidgle-widgets for fifty cents!"

            The PHBs get moist eyed. They exclaim, "we're paying ten times that now!" They pound each other on the back and cry. "FIFTY CENTS? Yay! Halloo," and they sign the deal.

            The new stuff arrives and about half of it breaks. About 10% of it doesn't even work out of the box. The PHBs DON'T CARE. The way they look at it, they're saving so much money that, even if they have to replace the customer's unit two or three times, they still come out ahead.

            The Internet is changing that, though, because most of us consumer types look at reviews before we buy anything. PHBs *hate* online reviews, because they say, "their stuff may 'sizzle nicely, but the steak itself is awful ..."

            (Gosh, I'm awfully poetic this morning. I need more coffee.)

        • Re:what a summary! (Score:5, Informative)

          by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @12:00PM (#38108728) Journal

          This.

          Offshoring, in my experience over the past 3-4 years, has been more trouble than it is worth.

          The work ethics and habits of American workers evolved over the decades when long career in one company with a gold watch and a pension. They work in certain way. The management on its part should be nurturing the workers who have a deep understanding of the company and the customers, especially those workers who cultivate skills that can not be useful seeking employment elsewhere. But management ditched the gold watch, picked up the golden parachute.

          The work ethics and the habits of the body-shopping firms evolved in a climate where the relationship is definitely not long term. Both sides knew it. Both sides expected the other side to take maximum advantage of it. American management went in thinking American work ethics in third-world prices. But it is not dealing with employees but intermediate contractors. Even if the body-shopping contractors have long term employees who are loyal, they would be loyal to the contractor, not to the outsourcing companies. Further everyone knows the cluelessness of the middle management. So they found every loop hole in the contract, every stretchable point, every exploitable gap and the body shopping contractors took the American management to the cleaners faster than you can say "aloo gobi, channa masala, butter nan and mango lassi please".

          There are world class employees and workers in India. But they (I should say we, because I am a desi who would not work for a desi salary) go up the value chain pretty quickly and are not available for hire at third world prices. What you do get for third world prices are third world class work.

        • by Shivetya (243324) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @12:42PM (#38109010) Homepage Journal

          Guess I am one of the lucky ones, I have worked with some great developers whom we farmed work too. We had two on the team over there who were better than most of the developers we had locally. It might depend on the type of work involved, my shop is on mid and larger systems and our requirements are a whole lot stricter so we don't see what others might.

          Still to dismiss a whole part of the industry under thinly veiled bigotry does not serve the Slashdot community well. I guess its easy to ride along on the misery train and blame the other guy, but first we must dismiss his ability because if we did not then where we would be.

          So guys, cool it with the assertion that off shore developers are not up to speed, the simple fact is there are many good developers in other parts of the world and many are far better than those who whine about them

          • by uncqual (836337)
            +1

            If the main criteria for hiring is "cheap" and/or the goal is "offload work no one wants to do" and/or you treat the offshore developers as "out of sight, out of mind" and/or as "second class citizens", you may not do so well offshore. However, if you hire to high standards, pay well, and give the offshore teams interesting work, it can be a great source of talent. Obviously remote development shifted 12 hours brings its own challenges and opportunities and that needs to be factored in.

            In recent ye
        • offshoring costs you 1/4 the money, and you get 1/2 the performance.

          that means, you are getting twice the efficiency.

          in a few years, these 'noobs' in Mumbai will have experience and it wont take them twice as long to do the work.

          their cost of living is not going to magically increase by 50%, but their productivity just might increase that much with experience. especially for niche crap like 'design a custom joomla extension for me'.

          its already happening on sites like freelancer.com

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            offshoring costs you 1/4 the money, and you get 1/2 the performance.

            that means, you are getting twice the efficiency.

            LOL.

            Then they tell you that yes, absolutely, they will deliver on time. Then the day before they're supposed to deliver they say actually, it's not done and they'll need more money to complete it. Six months later they send you a complete pile of crap that doesn't work. Then you pay your own developers to rewrite it into a less buggy piece of crap that you can actually ship with only a huge collection of bugs that randomly fsck up your users' day.

            Meanwhile you're a year behind the competition who didn't dec

        • by Hasai (131313)

          ....If you tell them "Add a newsletter subscription form", they will add the form, sure, a form that does nothing when you click Submit....

          Wow; sounds just like your typical Union guy.

      • Re:what a summary! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @12:11PM (#38108800)

        people who come from a range of backgrounds, from software development to mechanical engineers, and who can live in the worlds of art and science at once

        Then there's a 'user interface designer' that the software developers have to fight with daily. This poor fellow dropped out of art school and somehow became an expert in UIs. He wants to spend all day adding curved corners and gradients to every part of the UI. Then he decides to drop menu bars, status bars, and other useful UI functionality like that, because it's not 'usable'. The software developers battle with him constantly over his stupid ideas, but this designer is the son of the brother of one of the middle managers, so he stays around although he's a complete waste.

        I just thought I'd chime in here. Ford has contracted out at least one UI deign project for their new cars to several parallel design firms, including one I work with (sorry NDA prohibits more info). The design is a long term project made up of: one manager below the level of company founder; one graphic designer; and a bunch of usability researchers from disparate backgrounds including: UI design, anthropology, CS, music, and education. They spend most of their time putting together fast and dirty mockups of interfaces and then watching as many people as possible (in the target demographic) try to use them and interviewing those people about the experience.

        It is too early to judge the quality of the end product and even if it is excellent who knows if Ford will go forward with it. That said, I thought it important that people know your vision of how UIs are designed does not reflect the reality of my current experience with their "in process" design work.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        This sounds like an excellent summary, but I'm wondering how you explain how these same dumb-ass UI "experts" have come to be in control of Gnome, Unity, Windows Metro, etc.

  • Opening (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ice Station Zebra (18124) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:36AM (#38108036) Homepage Journal

    Sounds like an opening for a black hat to compromise a Ford vehicle with some mal-ware.

    • Re:Opening (Score:5, Funny)

      by Mantis8 (876944) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:57AM (#38108114)
      F.O.R.D. = fix or repair daily will take on a whole new meaning now.
      • Re:Opening (Score:5, Funny)

        by mikerubin (449692) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:01AM (#38108140)

        Format Or Reinstall Daily

      • Re:Opening (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hedwards (940851) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:37AM (#38108278)

        That was amusing back when Ford has serious quality issues, those days are by and large gone.

        As others have mentioned this is probably largely MS' fault for not doing proper QA prior to shipping the product. I'd consider blaming Ford, but let's be honest it's not like MS has any methods in place for requiring QA of products built with their products and they do often times deliberately provide work arounds so that the integrators don't have to.

        • Re:Opening (Score:5, Insightful)

          by kmoorman (873896) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @11:19AM (#38108500)

          Consumer Reports has Ford quality way down again, mostly because of this software.

          And if you buy a Ford and blame Microsoft for its problems I guarantee that you will be in the vast minority. Anyone with half a brain will be blaming Ford.

          • Re:Opening (Score:5, Insightful)

            by PPH (736903) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @11:30AM (#38108546)

            Anyone with half a brain will be blaming Ford.

            As they should. Ford is responsible for their brand's reputation in the final analysis. If they buy crap from some third party, they'll be the ones to suffer.Its the same thing with airplanes. When a Boeing or Airbus crashes, nobody remembers that it was a GE engine that blew up.

            Guess where Ford's CEO came from? Its sad, because Boeing really needs someone who understands their reputation's problems in the face of outsource vendors.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by The Askylist (2488908)
        I had an issue upgrading from version 2 (Bridgend Boyo) to the latest, Dagenham Dustbin. Next year's Emphysemic Escort is supposed to fix it, but I suspect I'll be disappointed till Z-Car Zodiac is finally released.
    • Yes, it is. The lack of specialized hardware or connectors for the upgrade makes the update fully software dependent. And with modern GPS systems, it makes unauthorized tracking (or unconstitutional law enforcement tracking) a personal privacy risk as well. And it creates fascinating tune-up paths for local mechanics with the skills to manipulate the carburetor and automatic transmission settings. The ability to turn off automatic headlight settings in software is invaluable for illegal activities, and to

  • by rrossman2 (844318) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:41AM (#38108044)

    Seriously... the article writer and story submitter haven't been involved with or paying attention to autos for the past.. oh.. 10+ years?

    Most "recalls" anymore are for flashing the software or programming in the ECU, TCM, BCM, or whatever other module. There's a recent 2007-2010 model year Honda recall for transmissions shifting issues that the fix is flashing new programming into the computer. How is that not software?

    Heck, GM radios (yes, made by delco or whoever) come with certain features locked out.. to unlock say the input port to work with XM requires plugging it into the shop computer and basically "flipping some bits" in the radio firmware (for lack of better terms) to enable the feature.

    There are older recalls that are just software updates.. and these updates are as much software and done by the car manufacturer as the Ford update (IE: Ford doesn't make the radios, other companies do.. some companies that make OEM radios include: Fujitsu Ten (Eclipse), Panasonic, Delco, Alpine, Pioneer, Becker, Kenwood, JVC... most of that short list I typed out also still make or made after market radios at some point.

    • Isn't the point though that Ford are confident enough in the update process that they can let users do it themselves? A recall implies that there is such a serious issue that a class action law suit would be more expensive than doing the recall?

      • by rickb928 (945187)

        Plugging in a USB stick isn't 'doing it yourself'.

        • It is compared to having to take the car to the dealership and having *them* plug in the USB stick--which up until now was the only way they would do official patching.

    • by mseeger (40923)

      Agree, heard drivers complaining about firmware updates massively changing the driving behaviour of their cars dramatically already a decade ago...

    • My 30 year old 'hobby car' has an ECM. While you cant reprogram it externally its a computer with an EPROM that holds its code.

      And it wasn't the first..

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:58AM (#38108382) Homepage

      "Heck, GM radios (yes, made by delco or whoever) come with certain features locked out.. to unlock say the input port to work with XM requires plugging it into the shop computer and basically "flipping some bits" in the radio firmware (for lack of better terms) to enable the feature."

      Wrong. to enable XM radio you plug in the Receiver module, on power up you press and hold AUX intil the display flashes. it then detects any new devices and enables them.

      They don't plug it into the shop computer unless you call the guy smearing grease and dirt all over the inside of the car a "computer"

    • by JBMcB (73720)

      It's not even that complicated. Some OEM radios can be "flashed" with update CD-ROMs. This became prevalent about the time that MP3 and satellite radio head units became popular, the car companies knew there were going to be problems and hedged their bets allowing CD updates. They aren't available to the consumer, though, you still need to take it in to the dealership to get the update.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      On the bright side, there's always the custom ECU option. You can install any OS you want on a computer; why not your car?

    • the article is about consumers being mailed USB sticks to reflash the cars by themselves.

      i know what youre thinking. 'they cant fuck that up. how can they fuck that up?'

      consumers are smart. they can fuck up anything. a-n-y-thing.

      the difference here is that Ford is pretending that a 12 year old frying his motherboard while trying to improve his Call of Duty framerate is going to have the same safety and legal consequences as someone half-frying their car's computer systems, leaving it with partially updated

    • by tixxit (1107127)
      Just replaced the ECM (recall) on my wife's '05 Corolla. Also, please note the incredibly cool MegaSquirt [megasquirt.info] (open source engine management).
  • by hubertf (124995) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:44AM (#38108058) Homepage Journal

    I don't know for Ford, but German automotive manufacturers have dealt with human/machine interfacing for a very long time,
    and in the process have not focussed on software/screen only, but also added many more interfacing methods like buttons, dials, cameras facing into the car and outside.
    Names that come to mind are car manufacturers (Audi, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz) and their suppliers (Continental, Hella, Vector Informatik).

    The whole topic has been covered not by computer science or engineers, but very much by information science.
    So maybe you want to have a look there if you are into this topic.
    Keywords: driver assistance, hmi, navigation systems

      - Hubert

  • by AmberBlackCat (829689) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:48AM (#38108076)
    I can't help but think there's a connection between (Ford uses Microsoft software for the car audio & display) and (Ford becomes the first company to issue a patch so users can upgrade their car's software).
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:51AM (#38108094) Journal

    I'm pleased that they're paying attention to this; unfortunately I bought a 2011 edge without the fancy screen, so I'm in the-hell-of-1974-bad-stereo-control, to the power of many-more-features-shoehorned-in.

    I *am* curious why that touchscreen - which is approximately the size of 2 smartphones - was a $1611 upgrade from the basic controls.

    Right now I (apparently) have the software and most of the systems in my car, but imagine trying to run an mp3 player, navigation system, bluetooth phone, etc with THIS (http://image.motortrend.com/f/2008_ford_edge/2308898196140957893+ppromo_mt_large/center_console.jpg) set of controls?

    I seriously can't wait until all cars have at least a USB port so I can save/store/communicate things like radio stations, seat preferences, etc all just by uploading my own user config. It'd be even nicer to get diagnostic data from the car that way that's a little more comprehensive than "oh, the red light is on".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:19AM (#38108220)

      It'd be even nicer to get diagnostic data from the car that way that's a little more comprehensive than "oh, the red light is on".

      Get a ODB-II reader.

    • by swalve (1980968) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:49AM (#38108342)
      I just bought a new car, and it does have more diag data than just a red light. Now, it's "if red light A is lit steadily, and amber light B flashes six times, the airbag is bad. If it flashes 5 times, you are out of gas." Etc. It is confusing.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @11:01AM (#38108410) Homepage

      "I *am* curious why that touchscreen - which is approximately the size of 2 smartphones - was a $1611 upgrade from the basic controls."

      Because they can. It's also why $12.95 in thin plastic sticky taped to your vehicle costs $1190 in "performance styling"

      All stock Nav systems are crap compared to aftermarkets like Kenwood. yet they cost 3X the price and deliver 2X the features... like real bluetooth from BluAnt or BlueParrot.

      I can drive at highway speeds with the windows down and the other end cant tell I'm in the car with my Kenwood Bluetooth hands free setup.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        The problem with the aftermarket stuff now is that it seems like, unlike back in the 90s, no one's using standard DIN-sized components any more, so it's nearly impossible to replace your radio or nav system without it looking like shit.

    • I seriously can't wait until all cars have at least a USB port...

      Long ago, decades even, I thought, "well now that portable music players like the walkman are common, at least all new cars will have Aux input ports for sound so we can play any source of music. I mean, it's only a few cents to add a line in to the stereo, they'd be morons not to add it. The problem is, it never happened. Not enough people think about these things when buying a car so manufacturers never did it. Right up though the peak of the iPod era most cars still shipped without an Aux port building a

    • I seriously can't wait until all cars have at least a USB port so I can save/store/communicate things like radio stations, seat preferences, etc all just by uploading my own user config

      Whatever happened to just driving?

      Yeah, yeah, I know. Time for my meds.

  • Psych majors, too (Score:4, Interesting)

    by paiute (550198) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:01AM (#38108136)
    There is a whole field in industrial psychology which studies the interaction between human and machine in terms of information flow and decision making. These guys and gals work for the CIA, NSA, FAA, NASA, DOD, etc.
  • UI issues (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alomex (148003) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:05AM (#38108162) Homepage

    The upgrade is to fix UI issues. How bad is the UI? I rented a Ford Focus a month ago and could not figure out how to switch the radio station to a non-programmed location!!

    The screen gave you no indication and none of the likely combinations worked, and I'm a techie who loves gadgets, CLI, etc.

    I can only wonder what would the average customer experience be like.

  • Umm a normal car today ( and recent past ) has more embedded computers than you can sneeze at.. And basic ECM's have been around for a LONG time. All of these take code.

  • by mrquagmire (2326560) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:41AM (#38108308)
    The summary is a little misleading. This is not a "major upgrade," it is a complete rewrite of the MyFord Touch system. You see, for their first attempt, Ford decided to outsource the project to a company called BSQUARE who put the UI together using Adobe Flash Lite [tumblr.com]. For some reason, the results were slightly [consumerreports.org] less [autoblog.com] than [nytimes.com] stellar [fordedgeforum.com].

    Anyway, Microsoft itself is supposedly helping with the rewrite and Ford is doing the rest in-house (without Flash) so those of us who have been dealing with this awful system for the last year are at least a little hopeful.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sollord (888521)

      It's even more amusing/worse as this update is a rewrite of a rewrite since MyFord was a total rewrite of the original ford sync system which ford originally developed in house with MS. Talk about going full circle

  • Well Volvo were way ahead with software updates from the late 90's. The S80 was well known for having more computing power than an F15 with over 40 computers. I guess in this context thats why Ford bought them, then sold them off once they learned a few tricks. Unfortunately Ford did not learn how to upgrade a car via the Internet, like with a Volvo when you get it serviced. i.e. when they plug the car in at a dealer, it connects to the factory via the internet. I think a USB stick is just a marketing gimmi
    • Funny you should mention the F15. Back in the late 1980s I worked in San Diego, and learned that the unmarked building next door was a General Dynamics facility where they wrote the software for the F18. According to them, the F18 had hundreds of VME boards [wikipedia.org], and that 1/2 the cost of the plane was the software. I'm sure that in theory, today most of those VME boards could be replaced by one board with a couple of chips on it (disregarding issues with EMP, etc.) Which raises the question - could a suitabl

  • That's more like it, people want updates (even if they don't know they do)

  • by DougReed (102865) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:50AM (#38108344)

    ... is not that Ford is updating software in cars; it is that USB sticks and US mail to million of owners is now cheaper than paying the mechanic to plug-in the car and flash the radio.

  • by anarcat (306985) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @11:03AM (#38108418) Homepage

    What's different here is that Ford is now shipping software to their customers, as opposed to having their customers go back to their favorite garage and have the mechanic plug the car into a magic computer, that often even he has only a faint clue of how it works. This is a significant paradigm shift. It means that Ford will be able to manage more frequent software releases, and maybe start thinking about changing whole features within the lifetime of the car, outside of regular "oh you need to have an inspection after 100 000km" kind of things. So that's cool.

    Now the bad part is that your "computer-car" stays proprietary software, and there will probably still be no way in hell that you will be able to modify that software yourself, unless you do some reverse engineering. But it necessarily opens up interesting avenues like running Rockbox [rockbox.org] on your radio receiver, or flashing some controllers with free software for some of us that are into that kind of crazy thing. I say "necessarily" because the car owners do not have the proprietary interfaces to interoperate with the car, which are a significant barrier of entry for us wannabe car hackers.

    In order for Ford to deliver that software to joe users, it means it has to lower this barrier of entry, and that can only be a good thing for everyone.

    • What's different here is that Ford is now shipping software to their customers, as opposed to having their customers go back to their favorite garage and have the mechanic plug the car into a magic computer, that often even he has only a faint clue of how it works. This is a significant paradigm shift. It means that Ford will be able to manage more frequent software releases, and maybe start thinking about changing whole features within the lifetime of the car, outside of regular "oh you need to have an inspection after 100 000km" kind of things. So that's cool.

      Iranian tin foil hat: All the pretty little USB sticks in the mail. Let's plug it into the computer at work to see what happens. It's from Ford, what could possibly go wrong? /Iranian tin foil hat

      Just sayin...

  • by PPH (736903) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @11:14AM (#38108476)

    Close all the windows.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @11:29AM (#38108538) Journal
    They run Android. With them, we do not have to worry about blue screams of death. I mean between Found On Road Dead and MS, it is the LAST PLACE YOU WANT TO BE.
  • they should have restricted the USB stick mailout to just their authorised dealers and service agents... and then mailshot all the customers with an offer coupon for a discount on a service and also a free software upgrade...
  • In a world where autos can be thought of as price points for a certain size and feature set (with most comparable models being in the a narrow power/accessories/size/price range) .. it makes sense that they'd make the software a value-add way to differenciate themselves.

    The experience in my Toyota Prius is similar, the 2004-2009 models come standard with a touch screen, and a lot of the functions center around it (backup camera, sound system, battery monitor, engine diagnostic code and testing). It was som

  • With it, Ford breaks the model in which the technology in a car essentially stayed unchanged from assembly line to junk yard'

    This is nonsense. Audi, and I assume most manufacturers, have been issuing software updates on their map DVDs for years.

    This is without even getting into the programmable nature of modern engines.

  • The "non-transferable license agreement" that is included in typical software means it's time to invest heavily in Vehicle Storage technology...

  • by jtara (133429) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @02:35PM (#38109762)

    PERHAPS the fact that the customer is updating the firmware themselves is something new. But as others have pointed-out, car manufacturers have been updating firmware in engine and other onboard computers for years.

    Human-Machine Interface Engineer? Not new either. Let me tell you how I turned some line workers into Human-Machine Interface Engineers 30 years ago...

    I was working for a small company in Michigan that made measurement and control systems used on automotive assembly lines. We were working on a system for a Bendix axle plant. It read a Brinell (hardness) gauge, and controlled the movement of the part through the station, application of the gauge, good/bad paint spray, etc.

    The company was perpetually behind, they had one and a half software people (I was the one - the other was a hardware guy that dabbled), and they didn't want to bother me about this job until I'd finished the prior one. So, I finish up this job and they tell me they've got this new job for me to do, and they're sending me to Ohio the next day on the primary contractor's private plane.

    They had the hardware put together. They told the client they were sending two guys to wire-in the system. No software had been written or designed. I didn't even know what it was supposed to do. They briefed me...

    We arrive at the plant and the guy we meet starts screaming at us. We were two days late. We didn't KNOW that we were two days late, but we were apparently two days late.

    While my co-worker started wiring-in the the box, I set up my Altair (yes, really) on the plant floor next to the line. So, for two weeks, I sat there with this deafening noise designing and writing code. The line was down, of course, and the two workers responsible for it had to stand around twiddling their thumbs.

    You haven't felt pressure till you've shown-up at an axle plant two days late to write software on the plant floor from scratch, with the line down, and two monkeys hovering around twiddling their thumbs.

    The line workers might have had some light maintenance tasks, but otherwise they didn't have anything to do, so they helped out. Sometimes we need them to operate the equipment, etc.

    We had a panel with a small LCD display (a few characters) and a bunch of big, industrial buttons in neat rows and columns. And no design. At all. (OK, I mean, we knew what we needed to do with the gauges and solenoids. We knew the operating sequence of the line. But there was no per-determined UI design.)

    So in a leap of faith I ask the guys: "how do you want this to work?" Why not? These were they guys that have to work the machine every day. Who better to do the UI design?

    They were delighted. I made the buttons work the way the line workers thought the buttons should work. I made the display show messages that were meaningful to them. It really helped to smooth-over the situation of us arriving late with nothing but a gutless box that did nothing to wire-in...

  • by yoshi_mon (172895) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @04:09PM (#38110352)

    I just read the thread and while there were a lot of good comments I am still struck with a question.

    What do we use instead of a car analogy for such a story?

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