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‘Driverless cars will still need drivers’

S Ronendra Singh | Updated on November 13, 2014

David Huang

David Huang is Senior Manager, Technology and Business Development, Connected Services at Ford Asia-Pacific. He has done a whole lot of engineering worked with around applications like Sync and AppLink. These apps help users connect their mobile phones with in-car systems. Huang, who operates out of the company’s Shanghai headquarters, spoke to Auto Focus recently.

Tell us more about AppLink. Will it distract drivers?

We do not compromise on safety measures and put extra efforts to make the app and display. These are reviewed by our security, safety and legal experts. Our view has been to ‘keep the driver’s eyes on the road and hands on the wheels’.

In ‘Sync’, we have voice control to enforce a safe action in the vehicle and this has now been extended to mobile phone apps. Our systems support voice control and apps make use of that based on Sync. You can use the Sync button to give instructions and commands for mobile phone apps. These not only appear on screen but also give voice feedback so that the driver is not distracted by having to look at the screen.

Who are your partners in India?

Right now we have two, MapmyIndia and ESPN Cricinfo, which can be downloaded from App store and plugged into Sync to operate in the vehicle. The hardware (infotainment system) is Ford technology and our vision is to open it for others as well, since it is an open source technology.

Everybody can take a tour of the website to build and customise individual needs. At a recent show in Las Vegas, Pateo, a Chinese vendor, indicated that it has already started using this in its systems (like an ipad).

Do you plan to work with software engineers in India?

Our developer programme is completely open – just like Android or iOS developer programme – so you can sign up for free. We are trying to build an ecosystem where the two big players are the developer and consumer. We are spending a lot of time and money in building up the initial group of developers as we have just launched AppLink in Fiesta to be followed by the EcoSport later this year.

From the developer’s point of view, the addressable user base is still relatively small as it is confined to the Fiesta . We are now talking to major app developers and doing some initial tours. Once that gets big enough, we will have big users. As the number of Ford cars also grow, it will attract developers at the other end.

So would AppLink be your USP for selling cars other than specs like engines?

I think we are already unique in terms of providing vehicle solutions with features like AppLink. More apps could be added over time and we have dedicated investments for acquiring new ones every year. All those apps are coming without the user having to upgrade the vehicle as it is an ‘open’ technology. We have the systems in Fiesta and the EcoSport and we are investigating the same platform to be used in other cars.

Today, Sync works on Microsoft system and with Android. So, we are planning to integrate the system in other cars including low-end ones like the Figo.

What is your take on driverless cars and the likelihood of Ford entering this space?

It is a hot topic for sure but our view is that it will still need a driver. Various technologies such as cruise control and collision avoidance are welcome but in certain circumstances, human reaction is essential to prevent disasters.

It’s like auto pilot in an aircraft where you still have two pilots in the cockpit. The same analogy applies for driverless cars. I do not think technologies are so advanced that machines can do everything. So, driverless cars are a reality in a way but it will still take time before they spread their road presence.

Don’t you think too much technology in a car could be a burden?

As we put more technology in a vehicle, we are also getting more tests and evaluations done so that the average lifespan remains.

Published on November 13, 2014

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