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Posted on Thu, May 20, 2010 : 5:13 a.m.

University of Michigan students, Ford collaborate on social media applications for cars

By Daryl Weinert

I remember an old television show called “My Mother the Car” that ran from 1965 to 1966. In the show, an attorney named David Crabtree (Jerry Van Dyke) purchases a dilapidated 1928 touring car at a used car lot instead of the fancy station wagon his family is expecting. It turns out the car talks to him through the vehicle’s radio (in the voice of his deceased mother no less!) and can drive itself. "My Mother the Car" was a critical failure, but was popular with young kids like myself. Perhaps it was ahead of its time.

Memories of this show came back to me when I heard about the "American Journey 2.0"- a joint research project between University of Michigan students, faculty and the Ford Motor Company. Two Ford Fiestas equipped with social media applications developed by the students, as well as other connectivity features developed in-house at Ford, are completing a cross-country journey from Michigan to California to participate in the Bay Area Maker Faire later this month.

Through an application known as Caravan Track, the cars can track the location of other vehicles in its “caravan;” plot, share and update routes; and warn others about problems along the road. This application was spawned out of a 12-week computing course at the University of Michigan, which was initiated by Ford Research & Advanced Engineering called “Cloud Computing in the Commute.”

The Fiestas also can tweet (follow them on; search for restaurants, gas stations and points of interest along the way; and assist with defining more fuel-efficient routes.

These applications are part of an exciting research effort between Ford and U-M to develop the next generation of in-car communications. This partnership was recently highlighted on an episode of the Big Ten Network’s Out of the Blue.

By combining this social connectivity with the advances being made in automated steering, crash avoidance and control systems, “My Mother the Car” may finally be ready for prime time … but hopefully with the voice of someone other than mother.

Daryl Weinert is the Executive Director of the University of Michigan’s Business Engagement Center. He can be reached at