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Ford Buys Startup Livio, Eyes Smart Car Standards

Ford Buys Startup Livio, Eyes Smart Car Standards
By Barry Levine

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In addition to enabling the interaction between smart cars and smart mobile devices, Ford Motor Co.'s acquisition of Livio is a stepping stone to helping the automaker speed the development of a single standard for in-car connectivity and apps, according to Jake Sigal, Livio's founder.
 


The smart car revolution is gaining speed. On Thursday, Ford Motor Co. announced it has purchased the startup Livio, as it moves to boost the level of interaction between smart automobiles and smart mobile devices.

The Michigan-based Livio, founded in 2008 by a former employee of parts supplier Delphi, has developed software that connects smart devices through car radios or in-car infotainment systems. The acquisition price was under $10 million, according to Ford. Livio will continue to provide technology for other customers, including competing car makers like GM. Livio will become a subsidiary of Ford Global Technologies, which handles the company's intellectual property, and it will also form its own department within Ford Electrical/Electronic Systems Engineering.

Ford is already planning to equip up to seven million vehicles with its AppLink system by the end of 2015. AppLink provides access through voice recognition to a variety of services, including music services Pandora and Spotify, and Major League Baseball (MLB). Livio's current products include Livio Radio, connecting iPhones to car stereos in cars that do not have auxiliary inputs, and the Livio Car Connect API for allowing smartphone apps to work with a car's system and apps.

Smarter Than Drivers

Aside from coordination between apps that offer entertainment or information, Ford and other car makers -- plus Google -- are in the process of making the vehicles smarter than their drivers, with a wider rollout of automatic parking, and experiments in avoidance monitoring via Wi-Fi between cars, in automated driving and with apps that monitor the health condition of the driver.

Jake Sigal, Livio's founder, told Newsday that the acquisition will help the development of a single standard for in-car connectivity and apps. Currently, the state of smart cars is like the very earliest days of computers or smartphones, when there was a wide variety of platforms, file and transmission formats, user interaction modes and screen designs.

He said that the acquisition "helps us accelerate the industry standard, which is desperately needed," and added that "it's a lot easier pushing a standard when you're not just a startup in metro Detroit."

Industry Standards

A set of standards would not only make Sigal's life easier, but it could spur a huge amount of third-party application development. Although there is some third-party application development, especially from established companies like Pandora or MLB, there is an abundance of apps like there is for, say, smartphones or tablets, because of the fragmentation of platforms.

But standards are not only technical. Like safety standards that Google is developing as it goes for its new Google Glass spectacles, the car companies need to work with each other, and possibly with insurance companies and consumer groups, to come up with acceptable standards for safe driving.

This is critical, since applications, dashboard systems or other technology that can be shown to distract drivers could become the subjects of liability suits. Insurance companies in particular may spearhead such efforts, and all it takes is one successful lawsuit to freeze development by third-party app companies.
 

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