ATLANTA: Ford will use Microsoft's Azure cloud services to power the back-end support and updates of its in-car entertainment systems across the globe.
The deal will enable Ford to push updates wirelessly to the third generation of its Sync infotainment system, Sync 3, due for release in the US in the summer and rolling out globally over the next two years.
In an interview with V3 at Convergence 2015, Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicles at Ford, said the use of the Azure cloud was key to ensure the rollout could be managed as efficiently as possible.
"We'll be rolling out the Sync 3 over the next two years across the globe, and so we need to have that capability ramped up very, very quickly," he said.
Butler also noted that using a public cloud avoids putting pressure on Ford's data centres and also allows for a more flexible approach to delivering infotainment updates and services.
A combination of the wireless connectivity for cars, which will be provided by Sync 3, and the support of the cloud will enable infotainment updates to be carried out in a non-intrusive manner, he added.
"What we're all about is enabling a more seamless and pleasing customer experience," he said.
"So from a user's perspective it's very transparent, they don't even know the download is taking place and the next time they [turn] the ignition it simply says your system has been updated."
Ford has developed a custom "end-to-end" system, a combination of in-car connectivity and networks, and its own data centres. Butler said the Azure cloud simply plugs into this existing system to give Ford the flexibility and reach cloud platforms enable.
He highlighted how this flexibility will allow Ford to explore further uses of connected car technology, touting the example of keyless entry as a cloud-supported system that could facilitate better car sharing.
Butler said that for security and reliability reasons, Ford maintains a hybrid model of on-premise and cloud-based systems, something that Azure supports.
"Azure gives us that flexibility to keep part of it on premise in terms of the data storage, but then leverage the cloud for stuff that's not sensitive," he said.
"For instance, our code packets that we download [to Sync], we can be sure that Microsoft is going to protect them - it's not private customer information, so that stays in the Ford-controlled pubic cloud that Azure maintains," said Butler. "But the customer's data itself - we do that on premise.
Butler said Ford takes its data responsibilities very seriously by ensuring it is kept protected and only gathered in order to provide a benefit to the end user.
Butler cited the example of a driver's location being recorded by a car's infotainment system and then sent to the emergency services in the event of a crash.
Despite the inherent advantages of this system, Butler said customers still need to opt-in to the service, highlighting how careful Ford is with data use.
"Even in that life-saving situation, we asking customers' permission and making them aware of how we are using that data," he said.
"We believe that if we continue to give them value then consumers will continue to give us permission to use their data in that way."
A cloud future
The flexibility cloud can deliver will also underpin a significant part of Ford's connected car future, though Butler did not speculate on what the future would include for the company's Sync and other car systems.
"I can't predict what the future is going to be, which is why I'm trying to put as much of it as I can in the cloud," he said.
"Cloud will enable us to dynamically adjust and adapt the capability of Sync within the vehicle depending on what the current driving condition or experience is," he added.
Ford and Microsoft is not the only technology and automotive partnership exploring the future of connected cars and infotainment systems.
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