Under the Hood: Automotive Testing Device Lab

REDMOND, Wash. — Aug. 17, 2010 — Jason Farmer and his team might have the biggest phone bill at Microsoft. In the Windows Embedded Device Lab, they spend upward of $150,000 per year on mobile phones and media players from around the world to ensure they are compatible with the Windows Embedded Automotive software platform. Drivers don’t want to buy a car only to find their mobile phone doesn’t work correctly with the vehicle’s infotainment system — Farmer and his team are there to make sure all devices will run smoothly on the road.

The Device Lab works to ensure compatibility with the Windows Embedded Automotive software platform.

Farmer, senior program manager lead for Microsoft Windows Embedded, started working at Microsoft nearly 10 years ago for MSN Autos (formerly MSN CarPoint), and transitioned quickly to the automotive team where he has worked on platform delivery, Ford SYNC, and Fiat’s Blue&Me, among many other projects.

Currently, Farmer is focused on device compatibility for the Windows Embedded Automotive software platform. Microsoft has two Device Labs, in Redmond and China, where hundreds of devices come each year to go through a series of tests that range from specification compliance to compatibility with the platform.

“Our goal is to make every device a driver brings into the vehicle work as it should without any bugs, regardless of the type of device or how it is connected,” said Farmer.

Farmer and the members of the Device Lab team pride themselves on resiliency. When the Lab receives a new mobile phone or media player, it may have a number of bugs within the code that cause problems with the user experience for a driver. Testers at the Lab will configure the device as if they were using it in their own car, and then put it through a series of manual and automated tests. Then, developers at the Lab work to write code to make the device run smoothly.

Hundreds of mobile phones and media players come to the Device Lab each year for testing.

For an automaker, the real value of having the Device Lab in its corner is that Microsoft tests every device it can get its hands on, including devices from different countries and regions where code specifications standards might not be followed as closely. The developers at the Lab write code to work around any bugs to ensure even off-brand phones work seamlessly with the Windows Embedded Automotive software platform. In the event developers at the Device Lab are not able to build an acceptable workaround, Microsoft has regular check-ins with device manufacturers to report bugs and outlines steps that can be taken to ensure compatibility in the vehicle.

The Device Lab is just one example of Microsoft’s commitment to enabling seamless, integrated experiences in the car.

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