Social networking for cars

On Twitter, no one knows you’re a car.

The social networking, micro-blogging trend is already a mainstay of the tech-savvy generation, but why would anyone want a car to send Twitter messages? And how is that possible?

The car that could Twitter is AJ, a 2011 Ford Fiesta that’s a test bed for company engineers exploring the boundaries of what’s possible when an automobile is connected to the Internet and all of its concomitant services. In May, a team of Ford engineers drove AJ from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to San Mateo, California, to participate in the Maker Faire. Along they way, AJ sent out Twitter messages.

“It’s getting pretty dark; time to put the headlights on,” was a typical entry, but followers also learned when AJ’s mood was “joyful.” But how could a car be joyful?

“There’s no traffic, and it’s not raining and it’s enjoying a winding road,” said Joe Rork, an information technology architect with Ford’s in-vehicle research and strategy team. Mr. Rork recalled the journey recently during a presentation in Manhattan. He explained that AJ was indeed sending the messages on its own.

The software behind AJ was an app called the “Auto”matic Blog. It tapped into the available data on the car, including telemetry information, like location, speed, acceleration and braking. It also gleaned information from the windshield wipers, steering input and GPS data and correlated it with live information culled from the Web.
So AJ’s software could combine, say, real-time traffic notices about congestion with its current situation (stop-and-go braking) and weather forecasts (storms ahead) and then send a Twitter entry like, “Stuck in traffic; not looking forward to next 50 miles, either.”

The Twitter app wasn’t the only connected software the Ford engineers tested. The group also ran the location-based Foursquare app, through which the car could automatically check the team in at restaurants and tourist spots along the way (and send pictures). Also being tested was a program developed by University of Michigan students called Caravan Track, which allows a group of fellow travellers to be automatically apprised of their friends’ locations and conditions up ahead.

But why would anyone want to do this? Ford is already on track to add smartphone apps, including a Twitter feed, to its Sync-based cars later this year. It has also announced that it will enable other phone apps to connect to its cars, essentially allowing third-party software programs to use a vehicle’s built-in controls, like buttons on the steering wheel, to control programs, including music players running on connected Android phones. The tests with AJ were a natural extension of this strategy, according to Mr. Rork, to see what’s possible when the car is connected and online all the time.

1,000 miles an hour car designed

A British team aiming to smash the current land speed record has unveiled the design of a pencil-shaped car that it hopes will travel at more than 1,000 miles an hour, reports Reuters from Farnborough.

After three years of aerodynamic research, construction is about to begin on the Bloodhound Supersonic Car which will be powered by a jet engine and a rocket with the record attempt slated for 2012 in South Africa.

“We have fixed the shape,” said Andy Green, the Royal Air Force fighter pilot who will drive the Bloodhound.

“Because of the modelling we have done, we know this shape will go to 1,000 miles an hour. Now we are actually going to get on and build it.” The same team, led by Briton Richard Noble, hold the current record of 763 mph set in 1997. At that stage Green became the first man to travel at supersonic speed on land, breaking the sound barrier.

Powered by a combination of a Typhoon fighter’s jet engine and a Falcon rocket, the car unveiled at the Farnborough International Air Show will develop 135,000 horse power or 180 times the power of a Formula 1 car.

The record attempt, on a dry lake bed, will see it accelerate from stationary to 1,000 mph (1,609kph) in 4.5 miles (7.25km) in 45 seconds.

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