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How Ford Will Upgrade Owners' Display Screens

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the changing-focus dept.

Software 215

gManZboy writes "'Sometime early next year, Ford will mail USB sticks to about 250,000 owners of vehicles with its advanced touchscreen control panel. The stick will contain a major upgrade to the software for that screen. With it, Ford breaks the model in which the technology in a car essentially stayed unchanged from assembly line to junk yard' — and Ford becomes a software company. This shift created a hot new tech job at Ford: human-machine interface engineers — people who come from a range of backgrounds, from software development to mechanical engineers, and who can live in the worlds of art and science at once."

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"with it, Ford breaks" (3, Funny)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108020)

yup. sounds about right.

Re:"with it, Ford breaks" (3, Insightful)

peragrin (659227) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108028)

FORD uses Microsoft software for it's screens. of course it needs updates. they are probably software patches to keep the damn things from crashing so often

Re:"with it, Ford breaks" (5, Funny)

Bengie (1121981) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108638)

Car + Crash = Bad

Re:"with it, Ford breaks" (3)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108694)

That is the part I don't get about TFA. The article blathers on about 'Ford did this' and 'Ford did that' but all the ads I saw talked about how it was MSFT's software, so which is it? Is Ford merely calling up their contact at MSFT and saying "We want this feature and do something about this problem" or did they essentially hire MSFT to just write them the OS and hand them the source code which they are having to add features and fixes in house?

Re:"with it, Ford breaks" (4, Insightful)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108820)

Because non MS software works well without patches...

Re:"with it, Ford breaks" (1, Troll)

FunPika (1551249) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108930)

Wow, Blue Screens of DEATH will sure get a whole new meaning if it ever causes an accident in a car.

Re:"with it, Ford breaks" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38109032)

And yet you can't tell its from it is. Not too smart.

Re:"with it, Ford breaks" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108226)

I have the 2011 version of Ford SYNC in an F150. This crap is so horribly broken it's criminal that they get away with marketing it like they do.
I should have just run like hell when I saw the Microsoft/Sony badge.

This shit his horrible now, I can only imagine how bad they will fuck it up with this update.

And no, I'll never buy another Ford. I don't want to be your beta tester for your lousy crap!

Re:"with it, Ford breaks" (5, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108288)

Because "ford sync" is actually Microsoft AutoPc from 1999. I had that abortion in my car from clarion. It's buggy, it locks up, voice control barely works, etc...

My nephew bought a new Mustang with it, and when he demoed it I about spit. it's the SAME VOICE and is responding the same way... kind of works. he also mentioned that it stops working at times until he shuts off the car and waits 10 seconds and then restarts it.

Yup. I would hate to tell him how I could lock my version up hard by turning on the ignition, let it boot, then off and on again quickly. I could lock up the autopc so hard it takes a hardware reset and a complete wipe back to factory default to get it working again.

Clarion got pissed when I did that in their demo vehicle at CES in 2000. Yup, same bug that they would not admit exists from a year ago.

Re:"with it, Ford breaks" (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108898)

It's really pretty disappointing too. From everything I've read, Ford's latest vehicles are, mechanically, really pretty good these days, and a giant improvement over the stuff they were making 10 years ago (compared with the competition). But these stupid Sync and MyTouch systems are completely ruining the whole package. I believe one article I read pointed out that Ford instantly went from leading the initial-quality surveys (thanks to improved mechanicals and quality) to being near the bottom, all because of these stupid touchscreen systems.

what a summary! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108024)

"people who come from a range of backgrounds, from software development to mechanical engineers, and who can live in the worlds of art and science at once"

did MLK write the summary?

Re:what a summary! (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108068)

Workplaces like that are very common today. They're basically two or three American mechanical engineers, coupled with two or three American software developers. They usually have one good manager a level above them, but then another 15 or so useless managers above that. Then there are the 85 off-shore software developers who collectively are less productive than the two or three American software developers. Aside from getting their own assigned work completed, the American software developers also have to do or fix the work assigned to the off-shore developers. But since this whole off-shoring idea was originated by one of the 15 useless middle managers, it's untouchable and can't just be discarded, although it's a complete waste. Then there's a 'user interface designer' that the software developers have to fight with daily. This poor fellow dropped out of art school and somehow became an expert in UIs. He wants to spend all day adding curved corners and gradients to every part of the UI. Then he decides to drop menu bars, status bars, and other useful UI functionality like that, because it's not 'usable'. The software developers battle with him constantly over his stupid ideas, but this designer is the son of the brother of one of the middle managers, so he stays around although he's a complete waste.

Re:what a summary! (5, Informative)

billcopc (196330) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108186)

This.

Offshoring, in my experience over the past 3-4 years, has been more trouble than it is worth. The time you spend babysitting these novice developers eats up whatever you "saved" by paying them 1/4 of your local wage, and it drives that project manager absolutely batshit insane. And then it takes them at least twice as long to do anything.

I often get the impression most of these guys can't be bothered to think for themselves. If you tell them "Add a newsletter subscription form", they will add the form, sure, a form that does nothing when you click Submit. It doesn't matter that the same guy has been working on your site for over a year, he's still not going to realize you didn't just want an inert form on your website. If you then say "make it insert into the database", hey great, now it's inserting into the database - in some random table that isn't the subscriptions table! So the net result is you practically write p-code, which they then thinly translate into Java or PHP or whatever.

Some shops can apparently tolerate this level of mediocrity. We've tried offshoring a few times, thinking maybe we had bad luck the first few times... nope, always the same bullshit, so that's why I now know how to configure and script Asterisk IVRs. We wanted to pay someone to just get it done since it was well outside our expertise, but in the end we had to do it over from scratch because all the offshore contractors we hired were complete imbeciles - so much for calling themselves Asterisk experts!

Re:what a summary! (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108258)

So the net result is you practically write p-code, which they then thinly translate into Java or PHP or whatever.

If you do it a certain way it's not so bad. The good but expensive programmer writes the stuff in precise English. It then gets compiled by some Indians into Java/.Net.

Then the good expensive programmer goes off to write something else while a cheaper bunch of people maintains the crap :).

If you really want to offshore work and not just "compilation", I think you should skip the "cheap" Indians, the Eastern Europeans are much better, they charge more but at least they're better than AIs- you still need to be a bit careful, but the hit rate is better.

Re:what a summary! (3, Insightful)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108280)

Ask culture versus guess culture. You expect them to guess as to what is necessary to make the subscription form work, and they expect you to ask for what you want.

Re:what a summary! (4, Insightful)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108526)

Sorry, but no.... Just no. He asked for a form that does a specific task. If the form does not do this task, then this isn't about guessing, it's that they're incompetent.

Re:what a summary! (1)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108932)

No, if you read his comment, he (said he) asked for a form and nothing else. He assumed they were going to guess that he wanted all the other stuff too, they assumed he would be smart enough to ask for exactly what he wanted. "Make a form" != "Make a form that accepts email addresses and submits them to the subscriptions table in the database"

Re:what a summary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38109094)

No, but "Add a newsletter subscription form" === "Make a form that accepts email addresses and submits them to the subscriptions table in the database".

Re:what a summary! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108918)

Parent is obviously a smelly paki who should probably go back to India

Re:what a summary! (2)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108300)

Most companies love medicore as it had higher profit margins. Even high end companies like Crestron are doing it. I have Crestron gear that is from 10-12 years ago that still runs perfectly. Yet new stuff I install for customers have a 35% failure rate. OR they dont work as reliable as they should. All of crestrons IP enabled WifI touchpanels are complete crap. Even their flagship TPS-6X is not reliable. out of 60 I have installed 30 drop connections or fall over at random times, and all of them have battery life issues due to bad design.

Medicore is higher profit margins for the executives and shareholders. Screw the customer.

Re:what a summary! (5, Insightful)

smpoole7 (1467717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108372)

It's not that they love mediocre so much as the "15 PHB Managers" mentioned above delude themselves. They've also been taught that the *perception* of quality is more important than the reality. "Sell the sizzle, not the steak," convince the customers that you're the best and there you go.

They honestly don't know any better, because they've never actually built anything. All they know how to do is maximize profits. It's not just the software, either, it's the hardware. In spades. Some salescreature from Asia will waltz in and say, "I can build your gidgle-widgets for fifty cents!"

The PHBs get moist eyed. They exclaim, "we're paying ten times that now!" They pound each other on the back and cry. "FIFTY CENTS? Yay! Halloo," and they sign the deal.

The new stuff arrives and about half of it breaks. About 10% of it doesn't even work out of the box. The PHBs DON'T CARE. The way they look at it, they're saving so much money that, even if they have to replace the customer's unit two or three times, they still come out ahead.

The Internet is changing that, though, because most of us consumer types look at reviews before we buy anything. PHBs *hate* online reviews, because they say, "their stuff may 'sizzle nicely, but the steak itself is awful ..."

(Gosh, I'm awfully poetic this morning. I need more coffee.)

Re:what a summary! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108964)

"I need more coffee."

I think you need a steak. Go for it.

Re:what a summary! (5, Informative)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108728)

This.

Offshoring, in my experience over the past 3-4 years, has been more trouble than it is worth.

The work ethics and habits of American workers evolved over the decades when long career in one company with a gold watch and a pension. They work in certain way. The management on its part should be nurturing the workers who have a deep understanding of the company and the customers, especially those workers who cultivate skills that can not be useful seeking employment elsewhere. But management ditched the gold watch, picked up the golden parachute.

The work ethics and the habits of the body-shopping firms evolved in a climate where the relationship is definitely not long term. Both sides knew it. Both sides expected the other side to take maximum advantage of it. American management went in thinking American work ethics in third-world prices. But it is not dealing with employees but intermediate contractors. Even if the body-shopping contractors have long term employees who are loyal, they would be loyal to the contractor, not to the outsourcing companies. Further everyone knows the cluelessness of the middle management. So they found every loop hole in the contract, every stretchable point, every exploitable gap and the body shopping contractors took the American management to the cleaners faster than you can say "aloo gobi, channa masala, butter nan and mango lassi please".

There are world class employees and workers in India. But they (I should say we, because I am a desi who would not work for a desi salary) go up the value chain pretty quickly and are not available for hire at third world prices. What you do get for third world prices are third world class work.

Not all off shore developers are bad (5, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38109010)

Guess I am one of the lucky ones, I have worked with some great developers whom we farmed work too. We had two on the team over there who were better than most of the developers we had locally. It might depend on the type of work involved, my shop is on mid and larger systems and our requirements are a whole lot stricter so we don't see what others might.

Still to dismiss a whole part of the industry under thinly veiled bigotry does not serve the Slashdot community well. I guess its easy to ride along on the misery train and blame the other guy, but first we must dismiss his ability because if we did not then where we would be.

So guys, cool it with the assertion that off shore developers are not up to speed, the simple fact is there are many good developers in other parts of the world and many are far better than those who whine about them

Re:what a summary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38109050)

In my experience you get better balance/results with eastern europe and russia than india/thailand/philippines etc - more expensive though.

Re:what a summary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108594)

A friend of mine was working for a company that got bought out by their outsourcing partner... I guess they finally outsourced the board too.

Re:what a summary! (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108800)

people who come from a range of backgrounds, from software development to mechanical engineers, and who can live in the worlds of art and science at once

Then there's a 'user interface designer' that the software developers have to fight with daily. This poor fellow dropped out of art school and somehow became an expert in UIs. He wants to spend all day adding curved corners and gradients to every part of the UI. Then he decides to drop menu bars, status bars, and other useful UI functionality like that, because it's not 'usable'. The software developers battle with him constantly over his stupid ideas, but this designer is the son of the brother of one of the middle managers, so he stays around although he's a complete waste.

I just thought I'd chime in here. Ford has contracted out at least one UI deign project for their new cars to several parallel design firms, including one I work with (sorry NDA prohibits more info). The design is a long term project made up of: one manager below the level of company founder; one graphic designer; and a bunch of usability researchers from disparate backgrounds including: UI design, anthropology, CS, music, and education. They spend most of their time putting together fast and dirty mockups of interfaces and then watching as many people as possible (in the target demographic) try to use them and interviewing those people about the experience.

It is too early to judge the quality of the end product and even if it is excellent who knows if Ford will go forward with it. That said, I thought it important that people know your vision of how UIs are designed does not reflect the reality of my current experience with their "in process" design work.

Re:what a summary! (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108916)

This sounds like an excellent summary, but I'm wondering how you explain how these same dumb-ass UI "experts" have come to be in control of Gnome, Unity, Windows Metro, etc.

Re:what a summary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108924)

Are you me?

Re:what a summary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108948)

yup, cronyism, nepotism and patronism rule

Opening (4, Interesting)

Ice Station Zebra (18124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108036)

Sounds like an opening for a black hat to compromise a Ford vehicle with some mal-ware.

Re:Opening (5, Funny)

Mantis8 (876944) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108114)

F.O.R.D. = fix or repair daily will take on a whole new meaning now.

Re:Opening (5, Funny)

mikerubin (449692) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108140)

Format Or Reinstall Daily

Re:Opening (1)

jones_supa (887896) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108614)

Firmware-Originated Repetitive Deficiencies

Re:Opening (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108278)

That was amusing back when Ford has serious quality issues, those days are by and large gone.

As others have mentioned this is probably largely MS' fault for not doing proper QA prior to shipping the product. I'd consider blaming Ford, but let's be honest it's not like MS has any methods in place for requiring QA of products built with their products and they do often times deliberately provide work arounds so that the integrators don't have to.

Re:Opening (5, Insightful)

kmoorman (873896) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108500)

Consumer Reports has Ford quality way down again, mostly because of this software.

And if you buy a Ford and blame Microsoft for its problems I guarantee that you will be in the vast minority. Anyone with half a brain will be blaming Ford.

Re:Opening (5, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108546)

Anyone with half a brain will be blaming Ford.

As they should. Ford is responsible for their brand's reputation in the final analysis. If they buy crap from some third party, they'll be the ones to suffer.Its the same thing with airplanes. When a Boeing or Airbus crashes, nobody remembers that it was a GE engine that blew up.

Guess where Ford's CEO came from? Its sad, because Boeing really needs someone who understands their reputation's problems in the face of outsource vendors.

Re:Opening (1)

Grave (8234) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108582)

And if you trust Consumer Reports' methodology, you have less than half a brain.

http://www.allpar.com/cr.html [allpar.com]
http://blogs.cars.com/kickingtires/2011/03/consumer-reports-admits-reliability-data-was-scarce-for-chrysler.html [cars.com]
http://www.truedelta.com/pieces/shortcomings.php [truedelta.com]

There are plenty more articles out there explaining the problem.

Re:Opening (1)

ninetyninebottles (2174630) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108840)

And if you trust Consumer Reports' methodology, you have less than half a brain.

I don't think you understand the scientific method. A study with methodological flaws that might make it less accurate is still valid information. A scientist tentatively believes whatever the best scientific research has supported. Yes, Consumer Reports has always had significant self selection bias from their survey based studies, but that's still the best data we have.

There are plenty more articles out there explaining the problem.

Studies explaining the problem are no help. Show us valid, large scale studies without the same level of methodological problems. Otherwise your comments are pitting random unfounded beliefs influenced by marketing campaigns against a study with potential for bias in both directions. Guess which one is more likely to be accurate.

Re:Opening (3, Funny)

The Askylist (2488908) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108406)

I had an issue upgrading from version 2 (Bridgend Boyo) to the latest, Dagenham Dustbin. Next year's Emphysemic Escort is supposed to fix it, but I suspect I'll be disappointed till Z-Car Zodiac is finally released.

Saddest. Up-mod. Ever. (0)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38109084)

I don't think you can find anyone over the age of 6 who speaks English and hasn't heard at least that one Ford acronym, and frankly most 6-year-olds have heard a few more as well. If ever a post deserved to be called "redundant", it was that one.

Re:Opening (2)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108146)

Yes, it is. The lack of specialized hardware or connectors for the upgrade makes the update fully software dependent. And with modern GPS systems, it makes unauthorized tracking (or unconstitutional law enforcement tracking) a personal privacy risk as well. And it creates fascinating tune-up paths for local mechanics with the skills to manipulate the carburetor and automatic transmission settings. The ability to turn off automatic headlight settings in software is invaluable for illegal activities, and to alter fuel-air ratios for high performance driving is criticial to access in software for modern systems.

I do hope that Ford's engineers are a good team, and not been forced to follow management policy decisions made in hurried moments between policy meetings that affect the safety and reliability of basic engine systems. I've certainly seen that happen with critical manufacturing and networking architectures, with managers too busy or unable to have the meetings with their employees insted of their own managers to listen to negative concerns about subtle flaws in a planned architecture. "We'll fix that if it happens" is a very dangerous approach that I had to deal with yesterday.

Carburetor??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108236)

Really? Carburetor? They haven't used those in ages!

Also - my understanding of it is that the safety-critical systems (i.e., that which is running on the primary chassis CANBUS) is not accessible to the display screen. Or, at least, that's what I've been told... (I drive a toyota, with none of that fancy-shmacy stuff)

Re:Carburetor??? (1)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108318)

(I drive a toyota, with none of that fancy-shmacy stuff)

[insert Toyota joke here]

I agree- I *believe* engine control/management/safety are on a different bus from playthings. Or at least I hope they are.

New rule: if you've ever actually owned a car with a carburetor, you must pronounce it car bur EET er. Optionally while wearing a cowboy hat, hooking your thumbs on your belt and kicking your heels.

uhh.. article years too late.. (5, Interesting)

rrossman2 (844318) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108044)

Seriously... the article writer and story submitter haven't been involved with or paying attention to autos for the past.. oh.. 10+ years?

Most "recalls" anymore are for flashing the software or programming in the ECU, TCM, BCM, or whatever other module. There's a recent 2007-2010 model year Honda recall for transmissions shifting issues that the fix is flashing new programming into the computer. How is that not software?

Heck, GM radios (yes, made by delco or whoever) come with certain features locked out.. to unlock say the input port to work with XM requires plugging it into the shop computer and basically "flipping some bits" in the radio firmware (for lack of better terms) to enable the feature.

There are older recalls that are just software updates.. and these updates are as much software and done by the car manufacturer as the Ford update (IE: Ford doesn't make the radios, other companies do.. some companies that make OEM radios include: Fujitsu Ten (Eclipse), Panasonic, Delco, Alpine, Pioneer, Becker, Kenwood, JVC... most of that short list I typed out also still make or made after market radios at some point.

Re:uhh.. article years too late.. (2)

Stormthirst (66538) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108070)

Isn't the point though that Ford are confident enough in the update process that they can let users do it themselves? A recall implies that there is such a serious issue that a class action law suit would be more expensive than doing the recall?

Re:uhh.. article years too late.. (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108296)

Plugging in a USB stick isn't 'doing it yourself'.

Re:uhh.. article years too late.. (2)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108448)

It is compared to having to take the car to the dealership and having *them* plug in the USB stick--which up until now was the only way they would do official patching.

Re:uhh.. article years too late.. (1)

excitedidiot (2442050) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108078)

VW has been making software updates to vehicles since the MK4 models, starting in 2001. In fact, nearly all VW's made in the last few years, have had software updates.

Re:uhh.. article years too late.. (1)

mseeger (40923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108132)

Agree, heard drivers complaining about firmware updates massively changing the driving behaviour of their cars dramatically already a decade ago...

Re:uhh.. article years too late.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108142)

I updated the OEM Nav system in my car 5 years ago. Downloaded a DVD image, popped it into the drive in the trunk. Boom. Apparently *I* broke the model and did not receive my fame and fortune.

More than 10 years now (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108292)

My 30 year old 'hobby car' has an ECM. While you cant reprogram it externally its a computer with an EPROM that holds its code.

And it wasn't the first..

Re:uhh.. article years too late.. (4, Informative)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108382)

"Heck, GM radios (yes, made by delco or whoever) come with certain features locked out.. to unlock say the input port to work with XM requires plugging it into the shop computer and basically "flipping some bits" in the radio firmware (for lack of better terms) to enable the feature."

Wrong. to enable XM radio you plug in the Receiver module, on power up you press and hold AUX intil the display flashes. it then detects any new devices and enables them.

They don't plug it into the shop computer unless you call the guy smearing grease and dirt all over the inside of the car a "computer"

Re:uhh.. article years too late.. (1)

JBMcB (73720) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108412)

It's not even that complicated. Some OEM radios can be "flashed" with update CD-ROMs. This became prevalent about the time that MP3 and satellite radio head units became popular, the car companies knew there were going to be problems and hedged their bets allowing CD updates. They aren't available to the consumer, though, you still need to take it in to the dealership to get the update.

Re:uhh.. article years too late.. (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108730)

On the bright side, there's always the custom ECU option. You can install any OS you want on a computer; why not your car?

HMI in automotive is not new (5, Informative)

hubertf (124995) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108058)

I don't know for Ford, but German automotive manufacturers have dealt with human/machine interfacing for a very long time,
and in the process have not focussed on software/screen only, but also added many more interfacing methods like buttons, dials, cameras facing into the car and outside.
Names that come to mind are car manufacturers (Audi, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz) and their suppliers (Continental, Hella, Vector Informatik).

The whole topic has been covered not by computer science or engineers, but very much by information science.
So maybe you want to have a look there if you are into this topic.
Keywords: driver assistance, hmi, navigation systems

  - Hubert

Re:HMI in automotive is not new (3, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108980)

I don't think bringing up BMW in this conversation will do you any favors.
They were almost universally flamed for iDrive when it came out and the subsequent upgrades have only made it 'less bad'.

Microsoft Sync (2, Funny)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108076)

I can't help but think there's a connection between (Ford uses Microsoft software for the car audio & display) and (Ford becomes the first company to issue a patch so users can upgrade their car's software).

Re:Microsoft Sync (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108198)

Actually the article is totally bogus, software updates for cars have been done for ages.
Usually during a service appointment the cars firmware is updated.

Re:Microsoft Sync (1)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108324)

Yeah, I think the "innovation" is that they've made a car radio as smart as a laser printer. Stick a USB key into the front of it, tell it to "print" the firmware file and bam, firmware upgraded.

I would bet anything that you can't upgrade the car's ECU via the USB port.

Re:Microsoft Sync (1)

Golden_Rider (137548) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108768)

Yeah, I think the "innovation" is that they've made a car radio as smart as a laser printer. Stick a USB key into the front of it, tell it to "print" the firmware file and bam, firmware upgraded.

I would bet anything that you can't upgrade the car's ECU via the USB port.

Seriously though, there is nothing "innovative" about this. Other car manufacturers have been doing that for years (offering updates for stuff like navigation / car infotainment via USB, so that the car owner can do the update himself). Just as an example, here's the download page of Volkswagen (I am sure other car companies are doing the same): http://www.volkswagen.de/de/servicezubehoer/VolkswagenOriginalZubehoer2/Downloads/Software-Updates_und_Anleitungen.html [volkswagen.de]

Congrats to the lucky ones (5, Interesting)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108094)

I'm pleased that they're paying attention to this; unfortunately I bought a 2011 edge without the fancy screen, so I'm in the-hell-of-1974-bad-stereo-control, to the power of many-more-features-shoehorned-in.

I *am* curious why that touchscreen - which is approximately the size of 2 smartphones - was a $1611 upgrade from the basic controls.

Right now I (apparently) have the software and most of the systems in my car, but imagine trying to run an mp3 player, navigation system, bluetooth phone, etc with THIS (http://image.motortrend.com/f/2008_ford_edge/2308898196140957893+ppromo_mt_large/center_console.jpg) set of controls?

I seriously can't wait until all cars have at least a USB port so I can save/store/communicate things like radio stations, seat preferences, etc all just by uploading my own user config. It'd be even nicer to get diagnostic data from the car that way that's a little more comprehensive than "oh, the red light is on".

Re:Congrats to the lucky ones (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108220)

It'd be even nicer to get diagnostic data from the car that way that's a little more comprehensive than "oh, the red light is on".

Get a ODB-II reader.

Re:Congrats to the lucky ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108654)

OBD.

Re:Congrats to the lucky ones (3, Interesting)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108342)

I just bought a new car, and it does have more diag data than just a red light. Now, it's "if red light A is lit steadily, and amber light B flashes six times, the airbag is bad. If it flashes 5 times, you are out of gas." Etc. It is confusing.

Re:Congrats to the lucky ones (5, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108410)

"I *am* curious why that touchscreen - which is approximately the size of 2 smartphones - was a $1611 upgrade from the basic controls."

Because they can. It's also why $12.95 in thin plastic sticky taped to your vehicle costs $1190 in "performance styling"

All stock Nav systems are crap compared to aftermarkets like Kenwood. yet they cost 3X the price and deliver 2X the features... like real bluetooth from BluAnt or BlueParrot.

I can drive at highway speeds with the windows down and the other end cant tell I'm in the car with my Kenwood Bluetooth hands free setup.

Re:Congrats to the lucky ones (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108984)

The problem with the aftermarket stuff now is that it seems like, unlike back in the 90s, no one's using standard DIN-sized components any more, so it's nearly impossible to replace your radio or nav system without it looking like shit.

Re:Congrats to the lucky ones (2)

ninetyninebottles (2174630) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108906)

I seriously can't wait until all cars have at least a USB port...

Long ago, decades even, I thought, "well now that portable music players like the walkman are common, at least all new cars will have Aux input ports for sound so we can play any source of music. I mean, it's only a few cents to add a line in to the stereo, they'd be morons not to add it. The problem is, it never happened. Not enough people think about these things when buying a car so manufacturers never did it. Right up though the peak of the iPod era most cars still shipped without an Aux port building a huge market for third party tape deck converters and radio transmitters to get music into your car stereo.

My point is, don't hold your breath. The auto industry is glacial and near fatally stupid much of the time. Just because a standard USB port makes sense doesn't mean it will ever happen. Quite likely by the time users can upload preferences into a car USB will be a legacy port and we'll be uploading via wireless transmissions and complaining about how we need an adaptor to get data off the quantum entanglement based network and into our autos.

Great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108098)

Now people will have to update their vehicle OS on a regular basis and of course, many won't, so now they have a vulnerability just waiting to be exploited by criminals with malware. And what will be the consequences? What kind of weird malfunctions will arise that could potentially cause accidents, injuries, or death? Accident lawyers will love this one.

Its a brave new world.

Re:Great! (2)

facetiousprogrammer (966842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108124)

Easy - prevent the car to start without latest update!

Re:Great! (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108302)

Consider that the update is being shipped via USB stick. I think there's your answer the car is almost certainly locked against unsigned updates, so the likelihood of it working out well in that case is pretty slim. Especially considering that the only connectivity is likely to be through the USB port rather than WiFi.

If it was WiFi, I'd be wondering how long until somebody figures out how to literally unlock the care via WiFi.

Not different (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108108)

I work for a company with a lot of different dealerships. Dodge and Ford both have been updating the head unit's software for at least four years now when you bring your car in for service. We don't charge for it (surprisingly), it's just one thing checked even if it's an oil change or something.

Psych majors, too (3, Interesting)

paiute (550198) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108136)

There is a whole field in industrial psychology which studies the interaction between human and machine in terms of information flow and decision making. These guys and gals work for the CIA, NSA, FAA, NASA, DOD, etc.

New way for infection? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108158)

So does anyone else see this as a new vector to take over someones vehicle with Malware, scareware, etc...? It's already easy to socially engineer someone to install back doors into "secure" systems by leaving USB drives in a parking lot, smoking area or sidewalk. Now all you have to do is mail someone a thumb drive that looks official with a letter to install it into their car.

UI issues (3, Interesting)

Alomex (148003) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108162)

The upgrade is to fix UI issues. How bad is the UI? I rented a Ford Focus a month ago and could not figure out how to switch the radio station to a non-programmed location!!

The screen gave you no indication and none of the likely combinations worked, and I'm a techie who loves gadgets, CLI, etc.

I can only wonder what would the average customer experience be like.

The current system is useless, of course it needs (1)

weeble (50918) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108166)

Of course the Ford system needs patching. Anybody who has used an iPhone in a Ford will know that. There is there is no method to control playlists or songs it is not powerful enough to charge the iPhone. It would be better having a standard USB charging port than anything that is installed in the car.

"becomes" a software company? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108200)

Umm a normal car today ( and recent past ) has more embedded computers than you can sneeze at.. And basic ECM's have been around for a LONG time. All of these take code.

There's some prior art! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108214)

With it, Ford breaks the model in which the technology in a car essentially stayed unchanged from assembly line to junk yard'

Hey! I put a CD player in my '72 Dart back in '94 -- well after it rolled off the assembly
line and well before it landed in the junkyard!

A little background info... (5, Interesting)

mrquagmire (2326560) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108308)

The summary is a little misleading. This is not a "major upgrade," it is a complete rewrite of the MyFord Touch system. You see, for their first attempt, Ford decided to outsource the project to a company called BSQUARE who put the UI together using Adobe Flash Lite [tumblr.com] . For some reason, the results were slightly [consumerreports.org] less [autoblog.com] than [nytimes.com] stellar [fordedgeforum.com] .

Anyway, Microsoft itself is supposedly helping with the rewrite and Ford is doing the rest in-house (without Flash) so those of us who have been dealing with this awful system for the last year are at least a little hopeful.

Re:A little background info... (3, Interesting)

Sollord (888521) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108374)

It's even more amusing/worse as this update is a rewrite of a rewrite since MyFord was a total rewrite of the original ford sync system which ford originally developed in house with MS. Talk about going full circle

Volvo was doing software before Ford owned them (2)

axonis (640949) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108312)

Well Volvo were way ahead with software updates from the late 90's. The S80 was well known for having more computing power than an F15 with over 40 computers. I guess in this context thats why Ford bought them, then sold them off once they learned a few tricks. Unfortunately Ford did not learn how to upgrade a car via the Internet, like with a Volvo when you get it serviced. i.e. when they plug the car in at a dealer, it connects to the factory via the internet. I think a USB stick is just a marketing gimmick.

Good move Ford! (1)

Snaller (147050) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108334)

That's more like it, people want updates (even if they don't know they do)

The real news here ... (4, Insightful)

DougReed (102865) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108344)

... is not that Ford is updating software in cars; it is that USB sticks and US mail to million of owners is now cheaper than paying the mechanic to plug-in the car and flash the radio.

now an engine firmware upgrade would be exciting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108352)

It continues to amaze me that car companies don't offer firmware upgrades for the engine computers. If Ford could find a way for me to upgrade and increase my mileage (or modify it for mostly city, or mostly hwy, driving), they'd sweep the entire automotive market. But, they won't, so I'll return to my pipe dream.

Re:now an engine firmware upgrade would be excitin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108416)

The reason they don't offer those upgrades is probably because they are illegal. Increasing performance or mileage usually produces much more pollution in the for of nitrous and sulfurous oxides. And these are very heavily regulated.

Re:now an engine firmware upgrade would be excitin (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108506)

That is easy for just about any modern car out there (3rd party updates). Typically all they do is change out the fuel/air mixture tables and maybe remove a speed governor. I imagine the newer ones (with drive by wire) also undo the awful computer override of your throttle motions (turning your intended throttle stomp into a gentile roll).

Granted most of the ECM updates are to make the motor run _better_ (usually at a slight mileage cost). I'm sure you can find one to make it run even more like shit then the factory de-tune. You can also have an RV cam installed in your motor. That will truly have it running like crap.

JC Whitney used to sell V8 to four banger conversion kits. You disconnected four spark plugs and four injectors. Hopefully on the same cylinders.

I cant wait! (1)

Chardansearavitriol (1946886) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108390)

Because theres nothing I like than waking up in the morning to see a new update which immediatly bricks my car. We all know its gonna happen. Its just a matter of time.

Re:I cant wait! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108430)

You're an idiot. In community college, did you major in reading incomprehension?

Re:I cant wait! (2)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108488)

In my day, we actually found our cars up on bricks when our tires went missing.

Now get off my lawn!

Shipping software for your computer-car (4, Insightful)

anarcat (306985) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108418)

What's different here is that Ford is now shipping software to their customers, as opposed to having their customers go back to their favorite garage and have the mechanic plug the car into a magic computer, that often even he has only a faint clue of how it works. This is a significant paradigm shift. It means that Ford will be able to manage more frequent software releases, and maybe start thinking about changing whole features within the lifetime of the car, outside of regular "oh you need to have an inspection after 100 000km" kind of things. So that's cool.

Now the bad part is that your "computer-car" stays proprietary software, and there will probably still be no way in hell that you will be able to modify that software yourself, unless you do some reverse engineering. But it necessarily opens up interesting avenues like running Rockbox [rockbox.org] on your radio receiver, or flashing some controllers with free software for some of us that are into that kind of crazy thing. I say "necessarily" because the car owners do not have the proprietary interfaces to interoperate with the car, which are a significant barrier of entry for us wannabe car hackers.

In order for Ford to deliver that software to joe users, it means it has to lower this barrier of entry, and that can only be a good thing for everyone.

Re:Shipping software for your computer-car (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108636)

I don't know that I want people flashing their own software into their cars.
If it's just the entertainment system or whatever, I don't care but if everyone starts changing thinks like how the brakes or accelerator respond to inputs and adding in their own control systems for better responding to whatever I would be a bit nervous.
The software car makers put in there will be a little better tested hopefully.

Re:Shipping software for your computer-car (1)

tipo159 (1151047) | more than 2 years ago | (#38109034)

As noted, it is only news because the mfg is supplying it directly to customers for them to do the installation.

Introducing big changes in how a shipping car works has been done before. New features (such as being able to switch between full automatic and manual gear change modes through the paddle shifters on the steering wheel as well as the shifter on the floor) were introduced in software upgrade to the transmission on my smart car a couple of years ago.

For some time, I have been able to buy third-party modules that plug into my VW's OBD port and recode controllers to enable new features.

This is probably less costly for Ford since they don't need to reimburse the dealer's service dept. to plug in a USB stick and verify that the installation worked. But I bet that the dealers won't be happy about the missed opportunity to look at the car and find something else that "needs" to be looked at (and repaired back to Ford).

Installation: Step One (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108476)

Close all the windows.

Ford's been computer software conpany for decades (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108536)

The statement "Ford becomes a software company" is odd. Ford has been a serious software developer for decades - its just the until recently their major customers were themselves and their dealers and parts suppliers. I worked for Ford Dealer Computer Services back in the 1980's and their were hundreds of us developing databases, parts inventory applications and a host of other things on mainframes, mini computers, and desktops like Dec's dual processor (I think they were a Z80 and Motorola 6502) - though you could only use one or another for your applications.

Tesla is the way to go (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108538)

They run Android. With them, we do not have to worry about blue screams of death. I mean between Found On Road Dead and MS, it is the LAST PLACE YOU WANT TO BE.

Re:Tesla is the way to go (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108986)

The backend may be different, but Ford and Tesla both use a Flash based GUI.

Missed an opportunity here... (1)

advocate_one (662832) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108736)

they should have restricted the USB stick mailout to just their authorised dealers and service agents... and then mailshot all the customers with an offer coupon for a discount on a service and also a free software upgrade...

well.. (1)

satsuke (263225) | more than 2 years ago | (#38108922)

In a world where autos can be thought of as price points for a certain size and feature set (with most comparable models being in the a narrow power/accessories/size/price range) .. it makes sense that they'd make the software a value-add way to differenciate themselves.

The experience in my Toyota Prius is similar, the 2004-2009 models come standard with a touch screen, and a lot of the functions center around it (backup camera, sound system, battery monitor, engine diagnostic code and testing). It was something that people noticed when getting into the car and added value above what was perceived by competetors. (it's no longer standard equipment btw, several thousand dollar upgrade just to get the camera).

not anything new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38108942)

Car dealers updating software is nothing new, ever since cars started using real computers in the mid 80's updates have been released to fix bugs. That can anything from hard shifting transmissions, cars stalling, emissions problems, driveablity problems that only show up under extreamly hot or cold conditions, etc....Until the mid 90's computers or prom chips had to be swapped out, since then many computers can be reprogrammed in the car.

I guess the differance is this was usually not visable or noticeable to the driver.

Only new thing may be USB (1)

sangreal66 (740295) | more than 2 years ago | (#38109038)

With it, Ford breaks the model in which the technology in a car essentially stayed unchanged from assembly line to junk yard'

This is nonsense. Audi, and I assume most manufacturers, have been issuing software updates on their map DVDs for years.

This is without even getting into the programmable nature of modern engines.

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