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Jonathan Erickson

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Not Your Father's Hands-Free Ford

March 31, 2010

The good news for Toyota is that the company has been getting a lot of news coverage recently. The bad news is the kind of news coverage Toyota has been getting. Between the news and all the extra advertising, you sometimes think that Toyota is the only newsworthy automobile company out there. That's hardly the case.

For instance, Ford recently announced that Ford SYNC has been installed in 2 million vehicles. SYNC is the in-car communications and entertainment system based on the Microsoft Auto platform. Two million installations. I believe that's what they call a milestone. Since it was first released in 1998, Microsoft Auto has had a number of monikers -- Windows CE for Automotive, Windows Automotive, and Windows Mobile for Automotive. By whatever name, Auto is an embedded operating system based on Windows CE. Ford SYNC, Ford's implementation of Microsoft Auto, was released in 2007.

I have to admit that Ford SYNC has some nifty features -- mobile phones that are voice-activated for hands-free calling, audible text messaging, real-time traffic and directions, in-car WiFi, and the like -- implemented in everything from a Taurus to a Kenworth. (What? No motor scooters?) That's right a Kenworth, as in an 18-wheeler semi tractor-trailer truck. Kenworth and Peterbilt (another 18-wheeler) have worked with the folks at Microsoft Auto to develop NavPlus and SmartNav, automotive platforms designed specifically for the commercial trucking industry. The Silverlight-based systems give truck drivers vehicle monitoring and diagnostic features, entertainment options such as commercial truck-enhanced navigation and music management, and hands-free phone calling. All features are accessed through voice or touch-enabled commands.

For more on what makes automotive systems like these tick, see An Architecture for In-Vehicle Infotainment Systems.

Like they said back in the '80s, it sure isn't your father's Oldsmobile -- or Ford or Kenworth, for that matter.

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