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U Michigan Students Drive with the Help of the Cloud ... and a Ford

On May 14, 2010 a team of students from the University of Michigan will get into a 2011 Ford Fiesta, loaded with an application they've developed, and drive out of Ann Arbor to hit Maker Faire, a do-it-yourself festival in San Mateo, CA. The students are the winners of a competition set up in a three-month computer science class titled "Cloud Computing in the Commute." The road trip prize is sponsored by Ford and is part of "American Journey 2.0," a joint research project involving Microsoft and Intel and offering students the chance to innovate the future of the in-car experience.

The purpose of the new course was to teach students how to work in small teams to design, build, and demonstrate an automotive telematics application. The teams were supplied with tools from Ford based on Microsoft Windows and Robotics Studio and running on the Windows Azure cloud-based development environment. They also had access to a Ford Fiesta prototype vehicle, experts from Ford's Research & Advanced Engineering department and Microsoft, and--through the development platform--a bunch of other resources, including social networking platforms, networking services, voice recognition, text to speech, and vehicle performance data.

At the end of the semester, six teams presented their projects, and "Caravan Track" won. The application allows vehicles traveling together to stay in touch. Other projects included a fuel tracker that provides real-time feedback to drivers based on previous drivers' experience on the same route; a ridesharing program to connect drivers and potential carpoolers through Facebook; two apps for serving up in-car reviews for points of interest; and a notification system for road conditions and hazards. Short videos of the student projects have been posted to a Facebook page, titled, "Social Networking Apps for Cars."

"This was an incredible opportunity for our students to work closely with an industrial partner on the leading edge of a growing trend," said Brian Noble, associate professor in computer science and engineering. "It's been a powerful experience showing these kids that there are really cool, high-tech problems waiting to be solved right here in Michigan. It would have been impossible without the help of Ford, Microsoft, and Intel."

"We consider the collaboration between Ford and the University of Michigan a model for innovation and open collaboration, and it's an exciting way to help shape tomorrow's work force," said Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader of the Infotronics team in Ford's research division. "Our philosophy is to constantly seek new channels of innovation, and the opportunity to share Ford's platform and expertise in a university environment has been invaluable."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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