Get connected while driving

Kathmandu, July 26:

Automotive gadgets that will allow drivers, passengers and even cars to be connected to the Internet will soon become a new sensation in the automotive industry.

Technologies that provide drivers with safe and easy access to text messages, e-mail and web-based entertainment are just down the road.

With the Internet and mobile phones becoming an essential part of everyday life, many people expect to be connected 24/7-even when behind the wheel.

A lot of drivers already yak on the phone, check e-mail and send text messages on their mobile devices. As a result, a handful of states in the US have made it illegal to use a handheld phones while driving.

But as commuting get longer in most metro areas due to ever-increasing traffic, drivers will want to stay informed, be entertained and productive while on the road, despite the risks of losing life, limbs or their license.

Car companies haven not fully responded to the growing demand to stay connected in the car for a myriad of legal, technical and financial reasons. The reasons range from the liability and safety issues to the widely disparate product planning cycles between the car and consumer electronics industries to figuring out who will be the players and the payees in this potentially lucrative market.

But in the next few months to the next few years, technology from both automakers and aftermarket will allow cars, drivers and passengers to be connected like never before. And it will be safer too.

“I think we are really at the front edge of explosive growth in automotive electronics,” says Scott McCormick, president and founder of the Connected Vehicle Trade Association, which was formed in 2005 as a consortium for parties involved in this rapidly evolving segment of the auto industry.

“When I meet with automakers, their assessment is that 80 to 90 per cent of everything new going into a car is going to have to do with electronics,” McCormick adds. “And because of this, the number of engineers and programmers working for auto companies and their suppliers is going to triple in the next six years.”

Ford and Microsoft have unveiled what many industry analysts believe could be the initial benchmark in bringing safe and convenient connectivity into the car with the introduction of Sync early this year.

Developed by Microsoft and available this fall in a dozen 2008 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, Sync provides a way to use a mobile phone and portable music player (or a combination of the two) completely hands-free. Sync links most music and communication devices to a vehicle via a wireless Bluetooth or wired USB connection so that the devices can be controlled with a combination of voice commands and steering-wheel switches.

While some vehicles allow control of the factory audio system or a phone using voice-activation and steering wheel controls, Sync accomplishes these tasks and more. For example, by speaking a few simple commands you can call up specific songs, artists, genres and play lists from a portable music player.

One of the most innovative features is Sync’s ability to playback text messages received on a mobile phone in voice form and allow the driver to reply with a series of 12 scripted responses, such as ‘Can’t Talk Right Now.’ Because Sync is largely software-driven, it can be easily upgraded without changing hardware.

Car owners can even update the system online.

And unlike cutting-edge technology that typically debuts on high-end cars-and at a high-end price, Sync will be available on entry-level Fords like the Focus. The price of the system has not yet been announced.

Future applications for Sync could include retrieving and reading e-mail and a host of other Internet-related functions. According to Velle Kolde, a product manager for in-vehicle systems at Microsoft, Sync’s capabilities are almost limitless.

“Pretty much anything you can do on a laptop, PDA, or smart phone can be done in the car,” he says. “How soon you see those capabilities is a function of how soon consumers start asking for them. More robust systems, such as a speech engine with a large vocabulary that can read e-mail, will require more systems resources, and this increases costs. So it’s really up to consumers as to what they are willing to pay for additional capabilities.”

If you can’t wait for carmakers to add Internet access to your ride, the aftermarket will soon offer an alternative.

Autonet Mobile’s portable Wi-Fi router plugs into a cigarette lighter and connects to the same high-speed cellular-phone networks used by wireless PC cards to create a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot in your car’s cockpit.

The router is optimised to smooth the handoffs between various wireless networks as the car travels.

The product isn’t designed for the driver to surf the Web, but rather to allow passengers to check e-mail, instant message, watch videos or anything else that can be done on a computer connected to a high-speed network.

While having a Wi-Fi hotspot in your car sounds high tech, it won’t be long before cars have their own Internet addresses. Plus, individual components-the speedometer, the brakes and the thermometer-will even have individual addresses that allow them to transmit and receive data.

But first, Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) standards, which allow an almost unlimited number of IP addresses, will have to become widespread. IPv6 is being implemented in various Internet applications because roughly 4.3 billion individual addresses available under the existing IPv4 standard are quickly being depleted.