Ford Developer Blog

Vehicle data, cross-platform support excite developers at SDL Hackathon

Posted on Friday, September 29, 2017 by Ford Partner Relations

Rauhmel Fox of WHOmentors.com is a battle-tested hackathon veteran. But he came away from the first-ever sdlDeveloper Hackathon excited by the potential, and reality, of SmartDeviceLink.

“I don’t think a lot of developers really understand,” Fox told FordDev. “We’re talking about an opportunity where the cars are coming together with the devices. That’s an untold level of connection.”

Fox, who came away from the event $5,000 richer, said he’d had experience developing for prior generations of Ford SYNC—but writing for Android and iOS, mapping to a platform used by many major domestic and international OEMs with a userbase of millions? It’s a literal new world of possibilities.

“I’m an Air Force Academy graduate, so my mindset is a little bit broader, [thinking more about] national appeal,” Fox said, “as opposed to just the joke of the day or the app of the day. So the breadth of, ‘Wow, this could be in other cars, it could be in other vehicles, it could be in other units,’ was more exciting to me than when it was one brand of car only.”

Ford Global Lead for Business Development and Partner Management Scott Burnell could sense the contestants’ eagerness to create cross-platform solutions.

“They’ve always been excited about working with Ford—hopefully,” he added with a laugh. “But now that you can say, ‘Hey, here’s Ford, here’s Toyota, here’s Suzuki, here’s Mazda all standing in the same room, and when you get your applications to work we can show you how it’ll work on the head units of each of these OEMs,’ that’s exciting for them and makes everything that much bigger.”

Fox cited the hands-on support as a major factor in how far he was able to take his solution.

“Having access to the engineers, obviously, was very helpful,” he said. “The initial issue for me was grappling [with] what was the SmartDeviceLInk about, what was going on; it was my first exposure to it. Obviously, having engineers there actually had built on it before crystallized for me where this could go.” Fox also appreciated having the head units on-hand, so he could instantly see the look and feel of the user experience across the multiple OEMs. “Third, just overall, the mood of people being agreeable and listening and being able to bounce ideas off of them,” he said. “Those three elements were critical for me.”

“I think with any hackathon, it boils down to getting started,” Burnell said. “We’ve gone to a master class that really lays it out for them, and we make sure that we have our support team really, really hands-on right at the beginning to help them kick off and get moving in the right direction.”

That robust support, as well as the growing maturity of the SYNC AppLink and SDL developer community, empowered the SDL Hackathon entrants to push their solutions farther—both in terms of innovation, and commercial viability.

“What we saw this time,” Burnell said, “was many of the teams were a little more refined with the features they were creating by being able to access vehicle data, and turn that around into an actual comprehensive application for their presentation.”

Fox knew he wanted to focus on driver safety. After doing some research, he saw an opportunity in emergency services solutions—and to have a compelling story to tell when presenting. Looking for resources to tap into, he discovered the Automated Packet Reporting System (ARPS), a digital channel for ham radio signals.

“[Even] as an emergency actions officer and air-battle manager, I’d never heard of that system,” Fox said, “though it had been developed by a contemporary of mine at the Naval Academy.” By connecting to ARPS via SDL, Fox could broadcast GPS location and vehicle-status data to a satellite-enabled network of 1.3 million volunteers.

“I do attend more than 50 hackathons a year,” Fox said. “However, I use the hackathons to identify applications for real-world needs. In contrast to the other developers, my goal wasn’t to focus on winning the prize; I actually wanted to find something that was useful.”

He did just that. In fact, Fox intends to publish his emergency services app.

“I’ve actually announced for a team of trainees to come learn about SDL and the application I’ve developed,” Fox said. “I’ve got a team putting it together, anticipating that I’ll be able to offer that app to the Ford team so it can be available on the AppStore.”

For Burnell, the most exciting part of the hackathon was the level of developer interest. The new FordDev developer relations committee created this event with very little lead time before MWCA17, yet it was nearly a packed house—over 40 individuals in a contest with a maximum capacity of 50.

Though Fox and the other entrants were able to create a diverse set of innovative, viable solutions overnight, developers are just beginning to tap into the power and possibility of SmartDeviceLink—both in the depth of vehicle data, and the breadth of the entire world.

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