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Ford to debut new cloud-based infrastructure

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. will soon take vehicle data into the cloud, thanks to a longtime partner.

The Dearborn automaker said Tuesday it’s partnering with Microsoft Corp. to create a cloud-based infrastructure from which customers can wirelessly download updates for its new Sync 3 infotainment system, remotely lock or unlock their vehicles and check battery-charge levels of their electric plug-ins. Ford previously ditched Microsoft for Blackberry’s QNX software for the creation of the new Sync system.

The automaker’s cloud-connected services will use Microsoft’s Azure global cloud-based network to beam information into the vehicle.

The system’s biggest benefit will be for Sync updates. Instead of owners taking cars into the dealership every time the software needs to be updated, it will instead download the information straight from the cloud, saving Ford and its customers time and money.

“It’s better for the customers, better for the dealer and better for Ford,” said Don Butler, Ford’s executive director of connected vehicle and services.

The cloud services won’t cost anything and will be offered when Sync 3 is launched later this summer, Butler said. Ford has not said on which vehicle the new Sync will debut.

The move comes as the industry increasingly turns to cloud-based systems.

FCA US, formerly Chrysler Group, has had the capability of performing minor over-the-air updates, through its Uconnect infotainment system, since September 2012. The company as recently as December updated four 2015 models to include vehicle diagnostics capabilities that are monitored and sent to drivers.

GM does not remotely update its infotainment system at this time.

Tesla Motors Inc. utilizes over-the-air updates the most, analysts say. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a recall in January 2014 for nearly 30,000 Model S electric cars due to a possible overheating issue during charging, the electric car company conducted an over-the-air software update that didn't require owners to take cars to dealers.

Butler said all the data transmitted over Ford’s cloud infrastructure will be secure. Sync software updates will be stored in Azure’s public cloud since it doesn’t contain sensitive information. Other private data will be stored in Ford’s privately controlled cloud.

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John Fikany, a Microsoft executive, said the move will help Ford develop more wireless services in the future: “The platform will provide rapid development of apps and services. This is just the beginning of what’s possible.”

Staff Writer Michael Wayland contributed.