Bug Labs hardware modules

Bug Labs hardware modules

Maybe it has something to do with the start of the auto show season. Or maybe it's because we're fast approaching the 30-year anniversary of War Games. But whatever the reason, the subject of hacking is clearly a hot topic in car circles.

Last week, you might recall that MacAfee issued an alarming (read: alarmist) study about the potential for baddies to hack into on-board computers. Yesterday, we reported on the exploits of telematics tinkerers at the annual TechCrunch Hackathon. Now comes more news from the TechCrunch Disrupt event that Ford Motor Company and Bug Labs will soon give car owners the tools to hack their own vehicles' electronics systems.

The basics

Bug Labs is an open-source software company based in New York. The company has created a series of modularized gizmos that can be fitted together to create tailor-made electronic systems. 

The big news is that Ford is planning to implement a technology called OpenXC, which will open the door for Ford owners to use Bug Labs tools in their own vehicles. Want to track your fuel economy? Sure, you could use a pen and paper, or possibly a smartphone app, but soon, you might also grab one of Bug Labs' inexpensive hardware modules, plug it into your ride, download some software, and voila: an eco-meter, right on your dash. And because modules come with internet connectivity built in, you have the option of sharing your "bugs" with friends and family.

Even more exiting: there's talk of making OpenXC available on older models, meaning that Ford owners could retrofit their rides with Bug Labs docking stations. That means customers around the globe, in a range of markets with a wide range of needs, could custom-build technology for their cars on the fly.

K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader for Infotronics with Ford Research and Innovation says: "OpenXC is about creating a platform that is totally accessible to the developer community and quickly incorporates local market needs to offer innovative solutions at an affordable price point.... The platform is designed to help us answer the question of how Ford can accelerate the car connectivity experience around the globe, at a value proposition, for both mature and emerging markets."

From the look of the (admittedly not so great) videos on Bug Labs' YouTube channel, the modules are a little like Lego blocks with cameras, GPS software, and electric currents -- or, in software terms, like the App Inventor for Android, which allows users to combine a set of modules in any number of ways. We wouldn't really call this "hacking"; it's more like high-tech tinkering. But it's definitely something that we can get behind.

Here's a video overview of the Bug Labs open source hardware system and a short clip of the Bug Labs camera module. Neither provides a lot of detail, but you can see that the system is easy to use. The possibilities are pretty exciting. 

For more details, check out this press release from Bug Labs.

[NYTimes, BugLabs, via TheCarConnection]