Product manager, mobile application connectivity. (01/06/2010)

Mobility will have dramatically changed by the year 2020. With the advent of carsharing, electrification, smartphone integration, and autonomous technology, cars have essentially become robots and by 2020 they will be able to drive themselves. Actually, cars can drive themselves now and also integrate many of the features found on smart devices so the questions become: How do you integrate these features? What standards should be adopted? How can the same ecosystem found in app development for mobile devices translate to the auto industry? To answer these questions is Julius Marchwicki from Ford, who is currently Director of Asia-Pacific, Connected Vehicles and Services. Prior to this position he was the Global Product Manager of SYNC AppLink at Ford Motor Company. I spoke to him at a Hackathon Ford was doing during CTIA a little over a year ago and thought that as these technologies become more prevalent, it will be interesting to see Ford’s vision as they recently announced a $4.5 billion plan for electric vehicles. Our dialogue follows.

Julius Marchwicki: My name is Julius Marchwiki. I’m Ford’s global product manager for SYNC AppLink and SmartDeviceLink and so we are the producers of the in-vehicle and mobile phone SDKs that allow developers and our head units to talk to one another.
Damola Idowu: … This is your very first developers’ conference…
Julius Marchwicki: Right, yeah.
Damola Idowu: Talk about that process and how did this come about?
Julius Marchwicki: Sure, so it’s not just our first conference, it’s the automotive industry’s first developer conference. So that’s a fantastic piece of history that was really formed out of yesterday. So we had over 190 people in the room yesterday, standing room only at most times throughout the day. And really the idea for us was to bring developers together, teach them about our technology, teach them about our vehicles and how we as Ford want to drive an automotive view of connectivity to app developers and give them the pieces of information that they need to be successful and get access to new avenues inside the vehicle so that we can offer great products and services to our customers.
Damola Idowu: So now, obviously, Microsoft had gotten in this space with Ford earlier. Before a lot of other manufacturers, you guys had SYNC. I’ve checked it out on Lincoln, checked it out on Ford products – good voice commands, speech to text – a lot of that integration, but now it seems like you’re doing a new shift. So talk about the evolution of SYNC with Microsoft to SYNC connected vehicle because are you using 4G LTE? Is it going to be a 3G connection? Are you doing your own MVNO? Kind of speak on that.
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah, sure. So just maybe – there’s a lot of questions in there, so we’ll maybe – we’ll break them up. So our – the SYNC system is our in-vehicle platform and that is our infotainment platform. It runs our vehicle head units. It allows you to connect a consumer smart device to the interior of our vehicles so that you, for example, can get USB and Bluetooth connectivity to a consumer’s device. That’s what SYNC is and it’s a platform. It’s a software platform for us. The operating system for that platform is provided by Microsoft and Microsoft is still a partner of ours. The AppLink solution that we talked about during the developer conference yesterday is a set of APIs that developers on smart devices can use to leverage all that great platform connectivity on the SYNC system. So this isn’t about, kind of 3G, 4G LTE connectivity in our vehicles, it’s about how a developer can create an app on a smart phone that a driver can use while they are driving using voice commands, the touchscreen, the steering wheel buttons and not have to fiddle with their phone while they’re driving. So that’s our view of connectivity. Your phone is connected. Your phone is 4G LTE-connected, as you speak. There’s no need for us to bring additional connectivity…
Damola Idowu: …into the car, so it’s more of a Bluetooth packet-type solution…
Julius Marchwicki: Exactly.
Damola Idowu: …where you’re pushing the data connectivity from the phone and this just goes into the head unit and it’s tethered and it sort of allows people to do better functions, maybe remote start, maybe commands, directions…
Julius Marchwicki: Not necessarily remote start, but it is a way for – for example, Spotify uses our technology to allow a customer to change playlists, search for artists, play our customers’ songs or music within their Spotify app and their Spotify account directly from their device and it goes a level beyond just standard Bluetooth or media streaming. Because you get voice-controlled access, because you get touchscreen access to the application using our in-vehicle HMI and using our steering wheel controls, a customer has more control and more personalization and choice of how they use applications on their device while they’re driving. So the functionality is really meant to extend the apps that a customer has on their smartphone into the vehicle and so it’s very much a…driving-centric type of interface and that’s what AppLink and SmartDeviceLink are all about.
Damola Idowu: So where does Livio come into play because I think Ford had acquired Livio a short time before?
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah. So we acquired Livio. Livio has a fantastic set of both engineering talent and technology.
Damola Idowu: Yeah, we’d interviewed Jake.
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah, sure. And so with Livio, we are actually using them to take the technology that we call AppLink and make that part of our open source efforts which we call SmartDeviceLink. SmartDeviceLink is an open source solution. We’re allowing any automaker, any head unit supplier, any device manufacturer, the ability to take the software that we have in our vehicles today and put that into their own vehicles, put that into their own head units inside cars so that they can then talk to the applications that live on customers’ smartphones. That’s where Livio is really playing a solid role for us as they are evangelizing on our behalf the technology and the vision of SmartDeviceLink.
Damola Idowu: So Jake’s with you guys still?
Julius Marchwicki: We don’t typically comment on personal matters, but Jake is no longer with Livio.
Damola Idowu: Oh okay. But Livio the company and the solution is still ongoing with Ford and that’s a huge part of what you are going to do with the developers’ outreach?
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah, absolutely. So Livio works with other automotive companies. They work with app developers. They are part of the Ford team and we work with them and they work with us on how we pursue and move our solutions forward. So they’re a fantastic talent and fantastic team and we’re happy to have them [as] part of the Ford family.
Damola Idowu: …We’ve talked to a lot of different manufacturers. Everybody has a different approach. For example, Hyundai is using Google and they are putting that in their API, so it’s really a Google-based solution – Hyundai – Kia. GM has their own solution, really their own OnStar-based ARM technology. You are able to do a capacitive touch. You guys have your solution which evolved out of what you were doing with Microsoft. So for developers, is there something standardized that could apply or is it more like with each manufacturer – and you do have a large enough scale – I mean you’re selling…three – four million cars a year? So…it’s a large enough scale for it to be worth their while, but how do they go about looking at how do I start coding for this company?
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah, and so that’s what we talked about yesterday at the developer conference and in fact, my presentation was about that problem – is that when you look at vehicle sales, it was estimated in 2013 that the auto industry globally sold 68 million vehicles. Compare that to 978 million smartphones. You are comparing 70 million to a billion and the numbers are vastly different. The problem compounds more, as you said, out of those 70 million vehicles, 10 million are one solution, 5 million are another solution and then as the car companies or the manufacturers get smaller, their solutions have less scale. What we talked about yesterday at the developer conference is SmartDeviceLink and SmartDeviceLink is Ford’s solution that we’ve opened up to industry, to allow them to use or take what is effectively a new open source standard. We believe that it is the right solution for the auto industry to take SmartDeviceLink and integrate it into whatever platforms or solutions they have in-vehicle, so that there is a standard in the automotive space. And we know that we are competing with the Googles and Apples of the world and their particular products, but for us, from an automotive perspective, SmartDeviceLink is the only automotive open source standard that we’re evangelizing and making available to other auto manufacturers. So part of our goal, to answer your question about developers, is to get more scale from a volume perspective. Ford offers millions of units a year that will work with SmartDeviceLink. We want other auto manufacturers, other suppliers to automotive manufacturers to take the SmartDeviceLink solution so that we get scale from developers so they create an app for SmartDeviceLink and those work across our vehicles and anyone else that adopts that as a technology.
Damola Idowu: So…speaking from perspective, like my son’s at Carnegie Mellon, electrical/computer engineering, so it basically seems like moving forward, people that are studying mechanical engineer and computer science, this is going to be a real big core of how they are going to have to learn. So from an educational point of view, how do you now disseminate this information to the educators so that kids that are graduating are actually now capable or aware of what would be required to be able to better service what Ford’s looking for?
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah, that’s a very interesting question. I’m not necessarily an expert on our recruiting processes. I know that when we recruit, we look for certain types of learning and experience and a lot of that is based on mobile technologies. So we’re looking for people that can develop Android apps or iPhone apps because that’s the kind of core of where software is moving. Software is very mobile. But that’s probably all I can comment on, on how we kind of communicate that. I’m unfortunately not the expert on how we communicate with universities around the world, but based on what we’re seeing come out of school and the resumes that come across my desk, it seems like people are getting the relevant experience to be successful.
Damola Idowu: So what languages do people or would people need to code? Is it Java? Is it Python, C+? What kind of languages for Ford’s developers to be able to use to write API and write calls?
Julius Marchwicki: …For our developers and for our developer program, we offer Java-based API for Android devices so part of the Android SDK is Java-based and then we offer an Objective-C API for iPhone-based solutions. But for the developers on my team and myself, everyone has a pretty broad knowledge of software development and the great thing about software development is if you know one language, usually the syntax of the language carries over to another so we have developers that know Python and C++ and .NET and C# and Java. So we have a wide variety of talents and skills, but for developers looking to create something for Ford right now, the two big ones are Objective-C and Java.

Damola Idowu: So how would a developer or student or anybody looking to develop apps, how would they submit? How would they register? How would they go about the process of getting into your ecosystem?
Julius Marchwicki: That’s a great question. Developer.ford.com. It’s as simple as that. You go in, sign up, agree to the terms and conditions. There’s no cost to join. Once you’ve created an account and logged in, you’ll have access to our SDKs, our tools, our documentation, best practices, tips and tricks. You’ll have effectively all the resources that are available to you to create an application that connects to a vehicle head unit, a Ford vehicle head unit equipped with AppLink and create an experience based on the APIs that we provide.

Damola Idowu: How about virtual emulators and testing?
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah we do have virtual emulators that are available for download online. We also have SmartDeviceLink emulators that are available at the Genivi website, that’s projects.genivi.org.
Damola Idowu: How do you spell that?
Julius Marchwicki: Projects-dot-G-E-N-I-V-I-dot-org and once you have that, you can go there and build what is effectively an in-vehicle head unit that is SmartDeviceLink-capable and you can use that as a test bench or you can request a physical piece of hardware from Ford which we call a TDK or a technology development kit. And those units, you can actually – there is going to be ten teams from our developer conference hackathon. Ten teams are going to take a TDK home with them and be able to work on that through the next two months before the L.A. auto show. So yeah, we have a wide variety of software and hardware-based solutions for developers to test against.
Damola Idowu: How about coordinating hackathons? So how does that go, if people want to coordinate one or integrate some of these solutions to kind of get minds together?
Julius Marchwicki: So we’ve done a…number of hackathons over the last couple of years. This was the first here in Las Vegas at our developer conference…
Damola Idowu: Yesterday.
Julius Marchwicki: We had one that went on for 12 hours and it will go on for the next two days in segments during the show. We’ve done hackathons in China. We’ve done hackathons in Europe. We’ve done hackathons in Brazil. So we’ve had a pretty wide, a wide array. Keep your eye out on developer.ford.com to understand where we’ll be next and where you can join us and kind of work with our vehicles and the hardware that we have to offer.
Damola Idowu: So basically to do one, though, you would just basically need like the TDK to be able to work and get minds?
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah, well, so you can use the TDK, but the AppLink emulator that’s available on our website is also a great tool to use to get started and it’s free to download so there’s no cost involved. You can start immediately, kind of getting an experience of what it’s like to use our software.
Damola Idowu: Yeah, because I was thinking if students wanted to coordinate one and what would they need…because this is new and this is really fascinating and this is the first year. So you have different campuses…and this is a good way for them to kind of get access to it, play with the technology, see what they come about and then also…you guys are [easy] to access so they can be able to keep a dialogue…
Julius Marchwicki: Super easy – developer.ford.com. There’s forums. We have a Reddit page with code snippets that the team can direct you to, so we do have a significant amount of resources available at that website.
Damola Idowu: …How much are you putting on the API…Obviously Ford has the self-driving with the parking…I mean the self-parking, audio signals, turning, lane departure, lane assist. So how far are you opening up your APIs?
Julius Marchwicki: Not quite that far. So you can’t control a steering. You can’t control the gas or brakes, but we do allow some access to vehicle data for development so you can get things like vehicle location and speed. You can get things like accelerator position, kind of gear status. There’s some body information that’s available: So, are the doors open? Are the seatbelts buckled? Those are the types of things that a developer can get access to, but that’s read-only. There isn’t much that…
Damola Idowu: Of the calls and their send backs.
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah, exactly. And then we also have APIs that allow you to speak to the driver, to listen to voice commands. There are ways to write to the screen. There are ways to alert the driver. So there’s a pretty comprehensive set of APIs that allow you to bring a very unique experience to [the driver].
Damola Idowu: Just not a lot of control of the mechanics.
Julius Marchwicki: Yeah, absolutely. That’s something that we don’t allow with the APIs today. So that’s something that I think won’t come anytime soon, but worth an investigation on our side.
Damola Idowu: No problem at all, thank you very much.
Julius Marchwicki: Thank you.

Ford adds Android Auto™ allowing easier and safer access to Google voice search, Google Maps and more via steering wheel controls and touch screen.

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