CES: Ford Sync Heading To Europe, Sync Concept Hinted At

Yesterday we revealed Ford Sync upgrades like turn-by-turn directions and traffic avoidance. Today we can say Sync is heading to Europe there's next-generation system brewing, call it a Sync concept, including Apple-like apps.

Yesterday, at CES, Ford announced upgrades to Sync with new goodies like audible turn-by-turn directions, a business and point of interest search capability and traffic rerouting, today they've announced plans to unleash the system in Europe and Asia and hinted at a conceptual next generation of Sync.

Let's get the boring stuff out of the way first. Beginning in 2010, Ford will introduce Sync in European countries in a bevy of native languages and then it will migrate to Japan and other Asian Pacific nations as well as Australia (no response on whether or not it will berate you in an Aussie accent for hooning, mate).

Ford is also announcing that it has partnered with the professional frustration-generating nerds at Best Buy's "Geek Squad" for promotion and technical support deal. Tech support? Whatever for? Well, for starters, you'll now be able to download new applications and software updates onto a USB drive and update your system. Since a huge swath of buyers are technologically inept, this is easier than clogging dealer service bays.

But what of the next-gen Sync? Well, we've seen a demo of the thing and although we can't yet spill the beans on what car it'll be displayed in, we can talk about its impressive levels of HAL 9000-like interactivity with all of the creepiness you can imagine. It even has an interactive avatar named Eva who looks like a more bookish version of Dot Matrix from the long-defunct, Saturday morning CGI kids show ReBoot. Eva interacts with the driver, manages information, handles navigation duties, and surfs the internet for you all while being generally helpful. Eva is nice, but the system behind her is more interesting. Ford is working towards a more technologically integrated future by integrating today's hardware with bleeding edge software concepts to birth solutions that seem decades away.

This concept centers around the mantra of "Be Clear, Be Attentive, Be Approachable, and Be Connected." The idea is to make being connected to the wider web and the world easier, and voice controlled. The system would do things like manage your calender and actively remind the driver of today's tasks, search the internet by voice command for a necessary article (or hilarious and informative posts on Jalopnik) and then read it to you, set up meetings with colleagues, suggest music playlists to augment your moods, and generally manage your mobile life. For all you techy nerds out there, Ford is even working on applications that can control downloaded apps on your Blackberry or iPhone by way of your steering wheel. Ford is positioning this concept as "Car as Companion," and the mockup we saw delivers on that. It's a vision of a Minority Report future, yes, but there are inevitably customers who would go nuts for it.

You'll hear more about Eva, and the next generation Sync concept when it's unveiled live at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show.

Ford ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR CONTINUED IN-CAR CONNECTIVITY LEADERSHIP, NEW SYNC FEATURES

*Ford’s technology leadership, modeled after the quick pace of consumer electronics industry, continues delivering affordable, smart innovations to millions of customers

*Ford SYNC goes global in 2010 starting in Europe, then migrates to Asia Pacific and Australia

*Ford launches new SYNC with Traffic, Directions and Information feature in the U.S., providing drivers personalized real-time information with no monthly subscription fees for the first three years

*Ford hints at the future of in-car connectivity with totally configurable cockpit concept with intuitive, conversational electronic personal assistant

*Ford partners with retail electronics giant Best Buy to help build SYNC awareness and provide technical support through its Geek Squad network

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 8, 2009 – Ford today announced plans to globalize its affordable industry-leading SYNC technologies and services at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and introduced new features aimed at further growing its in-vehicle connectivity leadership.

“No one in the automotive industry offers this level of connectivity as simply and affordably as Ford,” said Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally, who delivered his first keynote address at CES Thursday. “Our SYNC platform links customers from their vehicles to their hand-held devices to the internet — a level of connectivity that will continue to expand as we integrate new and emerging applications from our industry-leading partners.”

Mulally, along with Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Global Product Development, and top members of Ford’s Connected Services team, announced a new set of SYNC services that leverage industry-leading voice-recognition software, integrated GPS technology and a customer’s Bluetooth-capable mobile phone to deliver personalized traffic reports, precise turn-by-turn driving directions and up-to-date information including business listings, news, sports and weather – without the need for a built-in navigation system.

Launching this summer, SYNC with Traffic, Directions and Information allows customers to move seamlessly between their home, car and office, staying connected wherever they go. The new service will be available on all 2010 model-year, SYNC-equipped Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models with no monthly subscription fees for the first three years.

Ford SYNC is the industry’s first system to seamlessly integrate a variety of technologies to provide emergency, diagnostic and information services as well as traffic reports and directions on the road. They include: on-board text-to-speech engine, a customer’s mobile phone and network, data-over-voice technology, an off-board routing engine and voice portal, text messaging, an existing mobile application and the power of the Internet.

Ford is partnering with Microsoft and other recognized companies – INRIX, TeleNav, Tellme (a Microsoft subsidiary), M/A-COM and Airbiquity — to enable the new services to connect to real-time data.

“Our goal is to lead the industry into a new era of in-vehicle connectivity,” Kuzak said. “Using a SYNC platform that is more capable than ever before, we are taking ideas from technology companies and bringing them into the vehicle. The power of the partnership really knows no bounds.”

Kuzak said a key difference an important competitive advantage for Ford is that the company has no interest in developing its own proprietary system.

“We have an open system that accepts hardware and software products and applications,” he said. “We are striving to deliver technologies and applications to customers with speed, scale and affordability that no other automaker can touch.”

In addition, the SYNC system is upgradeable. Customers can add new features and applications by using simple download features. Plus, all the new features come without a monthly service fee for three years.

The success of SYNC is creating demand outside North America. Ford will be a making the award-winning system available globally starting in 2010, first in Europe, then migrating to Asia Pacific and Australia.

Ford also is redefining how customers react and interact with a vehicle’s controls and displays, including making voice recognition more natural and conversational. The first breakthrough in Ford’s Human Machine Interface (HMI) strategy is SmartGauge with EcoGuide, which launches on the new 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrids this spring. SmartGauge with EcoGuide is an innovative new instrument cluster that provides real-time information and “coaches” drivers on how to achieve maximum fuel efficiency in their hybrids.

On Thursday, Ford offered a glimpse into the future with a new, more powerful HMI that hints at how Ford’s future interior environments could function one day. It takes SYNC to the next level through the use of configurable controls and the use of an electronic personal assistant, or “avatar,” named Eva.

Engaged through conversational speech, Eva acts as the liaison to the vehicle’s connectivity and infotainment features, including SYNC and the Internet.

“Ford is all about making the journey from point A to point B a more enjoyable and richer experience, with intuitive, easy-to-use controls and voice-activated, hands-free operation,” said Jim Buczkowski, director of Electronics Systems Engineering.
“We want to create a truly a rich driving environment where there is no compromise in connectivity – where everything you expect will be at your fingertips or voice command, integrated into your drive with minimal distraction.” he added.

Ford also announced a new partnership with leading electronics retailer Best Buy, to help build SYNC awareness and provide tech support through its Geek Squad.

“It’s through partnership like Best Buy, Microsoft and countless others,” said Mulally, “that we are building new roads, connecting more people than ever, making connectivity technology affordable for millions, today and into the future.”