Watch CBSN Live

Ford Has a Better Idea: Yours

DEARBORN, MICH. -- If you want to learn something about computers, ask a kid - and that's an important aspect to how Ford (F) is figuring out which "apps," or features, to add to its Sync in-car communications system.

The "kids" in this case are computer science students and their professors, from the University of Michigan campus in Dearborn, Mich., Ford's hometown.

Ford worked with a half-dozen students to come up with ideas for apps they'd like to see, and gave them the means to test out their best ideas. Ford is contemplating setting up an "open" system that will allow outside developers to help come up with new ideas.

"We are going to embrace people who aren't Ford people, and that's something we haven't done much of," said Jim Farley, Ford group vice president, global marketing, in a briefing Dec. 17.

The two best ideas the student team came up with were a "Follow Me" application, and one they called SYNCast.

"Follow Me" combines the global-positioning capability of a cell phone, with Sync's existing ability to provide turn-by-turn directions to a given destination. In "Follow Me" mode, the "lead" car in effect becomes the destination for as many "following" cars as desired. The lead car leaves virtual "breadcrumbs" that the following cars can follow, even if the lead car is out of sight, so everyone eventually ends up at the same destination.

SYNCast would give access to online audio from any source, including the online version of radio stations, which could be played over the car's stereo speakers, and controlled via voice-control.

Ford's role in the development process has many facets, including figuring out how to make apps safe to use while driving, or else locking out certain functions, like the ability to watch videos, unless the car is stationary.

Farley said Ford is keen to capture so-called Millennials, who are now 13 to 29 years old. "They'll be the next Boomers," Farley said. "They will determine winners and losers in the United States."

Photo: Ford

View CBS News In