Ford calls in the hackers

AN army of computer nerds will soon play a big part in how you interact with the car.

Ford is poised to seek help from the most unlikely of sources - computer hackers - to develop the next killer iPhone-style in-car application.

OpenXC, as the free software is known, is expected to be released to the hacker community in the next few weeks, starting with the digital framework for a future version of the Ford Focus.

To help them further, Ford has even provided details of the hardware the hackers will use to build the modules, based on a $30 kit available from computer specialty shops.

According to Ford, the software imagines a time when ''your car is as easy to program as your smartphone''.

''A simple start is to take advantage of the GPS antenna on the roof of the car to improve the accuracy of your location-aware application,'' Ford says.

''Or get creative - why not generate a digital painting based on your steering wheel movements during the course of a day, and upload it directly to the web.''

Ford says there is growing interest in the community to connect the output from a car's systems to so-called ''third-party'' applications - software that is not made by the car maker - and the internet.

''Many companies are already offering tools to hook into the driver's interface, but for the most part they have limited availability for hobbyists and developers,'' it says.

''What if the system was designed from the ground up to be open-source and to give insight into the vehicle itself?''

John Ferlito, the president of software interest group Linux Australia, says Ford's decision to release the software for anyone interested in having a go at developing new apps - as well as releasing it for free - is a good move.

''It's a really great thing that they've made sure that there's no barriers to entry for this,'' he says.

''You will be able to just buy a bit of hardware, plug it into the car and see things like the fuel economy on your phone.

''Having a platform like this also makes it easy to use your own satellite navigation system to make a head-up display [where images projected on the windscreen appear to ''float'' in the air in front of the driver]. It will be easy to play and talk with the system.''

However, Ferlito sees even more functionality possible, particularly if the car is integrated with the home.

''Someone will invent one good doo-dad and you will be able to drive home and your house will automatically unlock when you get near the driveway,'' he says.

''If that's the sort of stuff people can make, then that's a really great thing.''

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