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Ford launches developer program for vehicle-to-drone tech

Automakers are looking at ways to connect cars to everything from smartphones to smart homes, so why not drones? Ford believes an F-150 pickup truck and a drone could make for quite the dynamic duo.

At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Ford announced a developer program with the aim of creating vehicle-to-drone technology. Working with DJI, the Dearborn carmaker wants to encourage developers to create ways for drones and cars to communicate, and it has a very worthy application in mind.

The goal of the DJI Developer Challenge is to create a surveying system for the United Nations Development Program that can be used in efforts to aid people affected by natural disasters. The idea is to have an emergency response team drive an F-150 as close to a disaster area as possible, and then deploy the drone.

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With the truck serving as a “base station,” the drone will use onboard cameras and sensors to survey a given area, assessing damage and looking for survivors. Developers will have to create a system that allows the two machines to stay in contact at all times. The data gathered by the drone can be shared with the driver’s smartphone, and the drone will have to be able to find the truck, even if it is moved to another location.

Developers will be able to use Ford’s Sync AppLink system and OpenXC app platform to access vehicle data and integrate their software with the F-150. Applicants can sign up on the DJI Developer Challenge website through March 10. The winner gets $100,000. The challenge is Ford’s latest attempt to get developers to create car-specific apps using the firm’s OpenXC platform.

Ford believes vehicle-to-drone technology could have applications beyond disaster relief and rescues, including agriculture, forestry, construction, and bridge inspection. But it will need this developer challenge to get that tech off the ground (pun intended).