PubNub Moves Into Connected Car Market

Real-time network PubNub has solidified its move into the connected car market with a winning app designed for Ford. Announced at last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the winning Integration by PubNub took Ford's dashboard API and created a real-time dispatch app. ProgrammableWeb spoke with both PubNub and Ford about how developers are partnering with car manufacturers to build out the connected car ecosystem.

"PubNub provides a real-time network—a set of building blocks that let developers build real-time apps that can check what devices are online and can send and receive messages simultaneously," PubNub CEO Todd Greene told ProgrammableWeb. "We have found that in transportation, this is a really great fit as it basically connects devices in cars bidirectionally. We have worked with GetTaxi, for example, to use our real-time networks so that dispatchers can see where all their taxis are. We can publish data on taxi requests and be guaranteed that the message will arrive. If a car is in a tunnel, for example, the message gets through as soon as the cab comes out of the tunnel."

IMAGE: PubNub's Dan Ristic takes to the stage to accept the Ford AppLink award at the Consumer Electronics Show (photo courtesy of Paul Brady)

PubNub's winning makeathon entry, the 'Real-Time Taxi' app for the Ford AppLink Platform, demonstrated how vehicle dispatch requests could be sent directly to the Ford dashboard. Drivers can respond to the app messages directly with their steering wheel buttons. The makeathon competition was hosted by Ford and VentureBeat.

Greene believes 2014 is the ideal time for developers to be thinking about what apps are being used on devices in cars and then working to re-create that functionality using car manufacturers' APIs to deliver the app directly as an in-car experience on the car dashboard or in-car screens. "When we saw the Ford API, we realized we could get rid of the third-party device (the GPS, the smart phone, etc.), and we saw it as an opportunity to showcase real-time synchronization in the car." Greene cites examples where the 'real-time taxi' app could be used by individual consumers in addition to fleet managers like taxi dispatchers. Couples could send messages to their partners, friends could share their locations for a set period of time when traveling on holidays or to events together, and parents could ensure contact with their teenagers when driving at night.

Ford's AppLink CES announcement was one of many connected car announcements dominating this year's consumer electronics trade show. While still in its infancy, the connected car market is set for year-on-year growth, according to a recent report by Telefonica, which drew on industry forecasts from Machina Research. That company predicts machine-to-machine connections in the car will generate more than $400 billion in revenue by 2022.

IMAGE: Machina Research quoted in Telefonica Connected Car Industry Report 2013

Car manufacturers are beginning to provide open APIs after vetting developer applications through a partnership process. Unlike more restrictive open APIs evident in competitive sectors like social media—where Pinterest and Twitter are moving to an application-based open API model where developers need to submit detailed use cases before being granted API access—car manufacturers have a more open attitude to ensure faster time-to-market for connected car solutions, but are wary of fully opening up their APIs to anyone. Telefonica's report notes this as one of the key challenges for the connected car market, as manufacturers need to balance fast growth of their app ecosystem with safeguards around security, safety and reliability.

"The Ford Developer Program is open to all developers around the world," Scott Burnell, Global Lead, Business Development & Partner Management at Ford, told ProgrammableWeb. "The tools and the guidelines for getting an application approved to be used in a vehicle are available through our developer portal. Where we get particular is in the validation and approval of these apps to ensure that they adhere to our strict launch criteria.

"Events like the makeathon allow Ford to interact with developers interested in getting apps in the vehicle both in large groups and one-on-one settings. Learning the nuances of what can make an experience appropriate for in-vehicle use can be so much easier when you have the opportunity to ask a member of the Ford Dev team as they occur right there throughout the event. It really helps accelerate the innovative spirit of the moment and keeps the momentum of the development effort moving along."

For developers wanting to enter this market, now is the perfect time to be building relationships with car manufacturers and networks like PubNub when developing up app solutions. "A lot of this isn't theoretical anymore," Greene says. "In addition to the one-on-one dispatch app, we have a second one on diagnostic data that we are doing with two or three car manufacturers at the moment. A third area is in aggregated data from in-car devices to look at traffic congestion. At CES, we were able to mention these use cases and we will be launching some more solution kits for transportation shortly. These are open-source templates that allow companies to take that baseline [of app functionality] and build something themselves. This space is really heating up."

Burnell agrees, having seen a more engaged CES audience this year than ever before: "The reaction to our AppLink apps has been very positive. It is always fun to speak with CES attendees who tell us about their experiences as Ford owners and how happy they are that Ford gives them ways to use their favorite apps in their vehicles, just as they do outside of them. It squarely places the car as an integrated piece within their entire life.

"Ford was the first automaker to deliver a keynote at CES. Since 2007, we have used this show to announce the launches of SYNC, AppLink, and the Ford Developer Program as well. Now you see every [Original Equipment Manufacturer] OEM with a presence at CES and getting more and more involved every year. By leading the move in to the consumer electronics space, Ford squarely placed importance on the connected vehicle and how it fits in to consumer’s lives. So today, it is no surprise to see Ford next to traditional consumer electronics and device names at CES."

PubNub have been quick to seize on this engagement by car manufacturers, Greene says. "We are having conversations with Ford about a number of products and we have been working with a number of car manufacturers. PubNub is a distributed realtime network, we have a low latency ability to stream information so if you're building an in-car system where streaming data back and forth, well, it may work well in the lab but devices can lose connectivity in the real world. We take care of all that stuff, it's not just easy for developers to write code with our PubNub API, it's also that we have four years of R&D experience that makes our connectivity seamless."

By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self and e-commerce. He can be contacted via email, on Twitter or on Google+.

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