Generation Y – which includes approximately 57 million people born between 1981 and 1995 – is the first group of car buyers that has grown up online, which means staying connected to friends and music while on the go is no longer a trend. It’s part of everyday life.
Dr. K. Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader with Ford’s Infotronics Research and Advanced Engineering department, says Sync puts Ford at the front of automotive connectivity, but the market is not standing still.
“The automotive user-experience, especially as it related to information services and entertainment, is in a state of rapid metamorphosis,” says Prasad. “Today’s user-experience is being defined by personalized digital content and information – anywhere, anytime.”
This content includes cassette players (which are on their way out, he says), CD players, DVD players, satellite radio, digital audio and video, text messaging, ring tones, games, navigation systems, e-mail, and others. There’s also telematics, such as roadside assistance or concierge services.
Ford organizes this content in three categories: built-in, brought-in and beamed-in.
“Given this new cast of actors and the maturity of enabling technologies, users now expect to sit in an automobile and have their brought-in devices and beamed-in services harmoniously integrate with the built-in interfaces in their car,” says Prasad. “The automotive user experience is being redefined.”
Enabling technologies include terms that seemed like science fiction just 10 years ago – just like such terms as high-speed Internet, USB, WiFi, TiVo and satellite are all becoming common in homes and businesses.
“Just as it’s unthinkable today to have a stand alone personal computer, perhaps the day is not far when the ‘move alone’ automobile will be considered an experience of the past,” says Prasad. “With the increasing presence of brought-in devices and beamed-in services, the effective computing and communication capability of the automobile is clearly on the rise.”
Even without brought-in and beamed-in elements, the computing and network communications ability of a vehicle’s built-in system is complex. A Ford F-150, for example, has 20 electronic modules, 50 sensors, 40 actuators and 3 networks. Luxury automobiles have more than 70 electronic modules.
Software and computing power are used for mission critical functions, such as safety and powertrain, plus comfort and convenience features, including climate control and heated/cooled seats.
As new versions of the software for Sync are rolled out, customers will be able to download updates from either a Web site or a Ford or Lincoln Mercury dealer.
“With such an increase in computing power inside cars in just the past few years, the computing and communication capability of tomorrow’s automobile might begin to approach what’s available in our networked office environment today,” says Prasad. “Right now, Sync effectively combines the car with a user’s cellular phone and portable music device, and it does so at a very affordable price point. We are speaking to the most connected and smartest consumers out there. With Sync as the foundation as we go forward, the possibilities for future user-experiences is limitless.”