What do a Ford F-Series Super Duty diesel pickup truck and an iPhone 3GS have in common? No, it's not a riddle, but more of a glimpse into the future of cars, which is looking more like the future of TVs, smart phones and all the other gadgets we use in our daily lives.
Both the iPhone and the Ford F-Series pickup were juiced up by recent firmware upgrades delivered free to customers by the manufacturer. The 3GS got Apple's OS 4.0, an operating system that allows the phone to multitask and do a host of other new tricks. The F-Series pickup, on the other hand, gets improved software for its powertrain control module that adds an additional 10 horsepower and 65 lb-ft of torque, for a ridiculous 400 hp and 800 lb-ft of torque total. Seems like the iPhone got the short end of the stick here, huh?
To get the upgrade, all owners have to do is bring their truck into the closest Ford dealer and in 30 minutes, the new software is installed and ready to go. As I've said in previous blogs, I think it's only a matter of time before cars that are hooked into the wireless Internet or that have the capacity to connect to Wi-Fi will automatically download new engine control software upgrades regularly to boost performance.
And just as hackers now "jailbreak" iPhones to get it do things the manufacturer never intended, I think the future will bring more hacking of automotive firmware in engine control units, or ECUs.
Hacking ECUs is as old as the ads in the back of your car magazine for "performance chips" for BMWs, Nissans and other makes. But I think especially as electric cars come to prominence, which are in many ways the ultimate tech-nerd cars, this process will become even more widespread.
Not that I'd recommend it. Hacking an iPhone seems pretty harmless, but an iPhone can't fly out of control and cause a car accident when its programming fails.