Skip to main content

User Innovation on the Internet of Things on Wheels

Venkatesh Prasad (Ford Motor Company)
Location: Fire House
Slides:   1-PPTX 

There are about a billion licensed cars, trucks and buses on the planet, and these automobiles are rich concentrations of technology, masterfully engineered to be safe, “green,” “smart,” and quality products, designed with an emotional appeal. It takes large concentrations of capital investment to manufacture automobiles, and the increasing complexity of the under-the-hood and behind-the-dash systems have made tinkering with a car, or even gaining read-only access to car data, an increasing difficult pursuit, especially for the individual user-innovator.

Using OpenXC, an open-source hardware and software development environment, we present automobiles as rich user-driven product and service innovation. With a set of examples that has been created by the “crowds,” both within and outside of Ford, we show how automobiles can become more accessible to the user-innovator and can also be developed as probes for a public good – especially with a billion on the roads, on all corners of this planet. Some of the examples shown will be serious, others hilarious, some for science and others for art, some are all-software apps and others are hardware accessories, all, however, show the joy of innovation by breaking and making and collaborating and reveal the emerging power of the internet-of-things – on wheels!

Venkatesh Prasad

Ford Motor Company

As the group and senior technical leader of Vehicle Design and
Infotronics for Ford Research and Innovation, the birthplace of
Ford SYNC®, K. Venkatesh Prasad is Ford’s “What’s Next” guy,
responsible for the research, architecture, standards, applications
development and vehicle system integration of electrical,
electronics and embedded software technologies.
In the early 1960s he was just a small boy in Chennai, India,
who was fascinated with electricity. As a precocious five-year-old
undeterred by his parents’ heed to not play with wires, Prasad
conducted his first experiment with electrons by plugging two wet
shoelaces into a 220-volt power outlet.
“That shocking lesson stays etched in my mind today,” he said.
Before joining Ford Motor Company in 1996, Prasad worked as
a senior scientist at RICOH Innovations in Menlo Park, Calif.,
developing automatic “lip reading” as a novel human-machine
interface. In addition, he was at Caltech and the NASA Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where he worked on the
world’s first telerobotic visual surface inspection system to help
design the International Space Station.
Attracted by an open-ended challenge to discover ways to
integrate “intelligence” into cars and trucks, Prasad joined Ford to work with a small group of engineers in the development of
adaptive headlamp and lane-mark detection technologies.
“When I first met with Ford decision makers, they asked me what I
knew about cars and I told them, ‘Not much.’ They said, ‘That’s who
we need… we have 15,000 engineers here who know everything
about cars and trucks. What we need is someone from outside our
box to help us make our products safer, cleaner and the journey
more fun.’ That intrigued me,” said Prasad.
As Ford’s What’s Next guy, Prasad in the late 1990s was imagining
the vehicle as a software platform where features and services
could be beamed in from the outside – without incremental built-
in hardware. This was during the time when others were hot to
find better ways to build in phones and trunk-mounted six-disc CD
“In early 2000, formats started to change drastically – no longer
were mechanical devices necessary to play music, only a piece
of software. Everyone started carrying cellphones,” he says. “I
envisioned transforming the move-alone vehicle into an inter-
networked platform-on-wheels so people could use the devices
they already had in their vehicle and reduce the steps needed to
do things. Such connectivity required a revolutionary change of
That revolutionary mind-set led to the development of Ford
SYNC. Software-based, the voice-activated SYNC system allows
Ford and Lincoln vehicle owners to seamlessly connect to their
cellphone, MP3 players and a host of other features and services
in and through their vehicle – hands-free.
For the What’s Next guy at Ford, the upgradeable SYNC platform
is only limited by the imagination and market acceptance of
emerging digital connectivity technologies.
“SYNC is helping Ford redefine the automotive user experience,”
said Prasad. “Our challenge is to make sure we leverage the
capabilities of the SYNC platform so that all functionality in the
vehicle is safe and without distraction to the driver.”