Now a car that tweets

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NEW YORK - Online blogging is a trendy communication tool not just for tech-savvy humans. Now your car can also send messages on Twitter and have more followers than even singer Lady Gaga and US President Barack Obama.

The car that can tweet is AJ, a future model of Ford Fiesta, which is a test bed for company engineers exploring the possibilities when an automobile is connected to the internet and all of its concomitant services.

“It’s getting pretty dark; time to put the headlights on,” was a typical entry posted by AJ when a team of engineers drove the car to California for an exhibition in May, The New York Times reported.

Followers also learned when AJ’s mood was “joyful” when “there’s no traffic, and it’s not raining and it’s enjoying a winding road”, said Joe Rork, an information technology architect with Ford.

Rork recalled the journey during a presentation in Manhattan and explained how AJ was sending the messages on its own.

The software behind AJ was an application called the “Auto”matic Blog. It tapped into the available data on the car, including telemetry information, like location, speed, acceleration and braking.

It also gleaned information from windshield wipers, steering input and GPS data and correlated it with live information culled from the Web.

AJ’s software could combine, say, real-time traffic notices about congestion with its current situation (stop-and-go braking) and weather forecasts (storms ahead) and then send a Twitter entry like, “Stuck in traffic; not looking forward to next 50 miles, either.”

Apart from Twitter application, the engineers also ran the location-based Foursquare software, through which the car could automatically check the team in at restaurants and tourist spots along the way (and send pictures).

The car is also being tested with a programme developed by University of Michigan students called Caravan Track, which allows a group of travellers to be automatically apprised of their friends’ locations and conditions along the way.

Ford is already on track to add smartphone applications, including a Twitter feed, to its Sync-based cars later this year, the daily said.

It has also announced that it will enable other phone applications to connect to its cars, allowing third-party software programmes to use a vehicle’s built-in controls, like buttons on the steering wheel, to control programmes, including music players running on connected Android phones.

The tests with AJ were a natural extension of this strategy to see what’s possible when the car is connected and online all the time, according to Rork.

Since mainly off-the-shelf hardware was used, including a high-speed cellular data connection, a Wi-Fi router and a Dell computer running Windows 7 in the trunk, any car could be turned into a Twittermobile, Rork said.

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