Ford gets in sync with digital driving trends with its latest app hackathon

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Ford is looking to small tech startups to help it develop innovative app-based solutions to simplifying carpooling, journey planning and even in-car entertainment as the company looks to capitalize on growing digital trends.

In recent months, Ford has been touring Europe and beyond, hosting "Make it Driveable" AppLink challenges that offer individuals and small companies cash prizes for ideas that can provide a measurable benefit on transitioning car drivers from simply owning a car to investing in the future of mobility, and the latest winning concept comes courtesy of a French-based start-up called Zify.

Its app, which, when completely finished and integrated, will work seamlessly with Ford's SYNC infotainment and connectivity platform, enables drivers to earn money via ad-hoc car pooling, essentially renting out the empty seats on any commute.

Carpooling apps in and of themselves are nothing new, but Zify's app differs in the respect that it pairs the driver and his or her car with like-minded people, who share interests and who in other circumstances could be your friends.

"People want apps and services that enable more efficient and rewarding driving and that's exactly what we are trying to do with this new take on carpooling. We can't wait to work with Ford so that this idea can become a reality here in Europe," said Zify CEO Anurag Rathor, whose app enables passengers to make payments and drivers to receive fares. Zify's app isn't a flight of fancy either; it is already in use as a standalone service in India where it has fast become the biggest marketplace for carpooling in India.

The idea, which was presented to Ford customers in Europe and beyond rather than simply to Ford's own tech teams, has been rewarded with a €10,000 prize plus an invitation to now work directly with Ford with the goal of eventually bringing it to the dashboards of Ford cars with the SYNC platform on board.

Also scooping a prize was RouteValet, which can draw on any form of transport -- from bus, train and metro timetables to existing carpooling and ride hailing services -- to create a "multimodal" navigation route, where potentially every meter of a journey can be planned.

The final winner -- over 70 companies entered the competition -- is Acast, an app that can automatically generate podcast playlists based on a driver's commute, his or her interests and the time of day.

"For the smart cities of tomorrow we need smarter vehicles, and these three winning apps could each play a role in simplifying our future commutes, making them more enjoyable and even enabling drivers to generate an income from journeys they would be making anyway," said Abraham Philip, manager, Connected Vehicle and Services, Ford of Europe.