Ford working on a better Segway

Ford has announced plans for a new Silicon Valley R&D center to come up with a better alternative to the Segway or other "personal mobility experience" concepts, as well as integrating mobile tech better with its SYNC in-car infotainment system. The San Francisco lab, set to open later this year, will look at "a holistic approach to personal transportation" as well as how the car can be transformed into a sensor, sharing information such as when windshield wipers are turned on to track hyper-local weather and other trends. Meanwhile, Ford has also begun distributing its open-source collaboration with Bug Labs, announced last year.

The OpenXC research platform – consisting of hardware and software developer kits created in partnership with Bug Labs – is being shipped this month, with MIT, the University of Michigan and Stanford among the first wave of universities taking part. The idea is that developers will eventually be able to use "key vehicle data" in their cloud apps and services.

"[Ford's] future is not just about building cars but about creating uncompromised personal mobility experiences for people around the world" Ford

Ford's own work on that will involve opening up its in-car sensor feedback to developers. Weather Underground is looking to use windshield use data for real-time weather proximity reporting, for instance, with 3G-enabled vehicles sending back information that can be mashed up with other news.

A SYNC-enabled Segway probably isn't going to be first on Ford's list, in fact the company has set itself a more ambitious challenge than simply getting one person about without stressing their legs. "With increasing pressures from urbanization and the need to reduce energy use," CTO Paul Mascarenas says, "we're going to see energy storage, wireless connectivity, sensing systems and even autonomous vehicles as key parts of the solution."

Ford will discuss some of its in-car technology during its CES keynote next week, including showcasing five titles from the Ford SYNC App Developer Challenge. One such app will be Roximity, which "provides real-time deals and specials relevant to a user's location, based on personal preferences and interests" so that, when connected to SYNC, could deliver "a customized verbal message for a special deal on food from a favorite nearby restaurant."