Connected Cars

By February 20, 2007

High-tech cars are seductive in many ways. Navigating more efficiently to one’s destination while finding “points of interest” en route, packing hours of music and movies to occupy the driver and the passengers on long drives and surfing the Internet while on the road are technologies that can improve the driving experience. As long as the driver keeps focused on driving, that is.

Autonet Mobile Service turns cars into Wi-Fi hotspots. Starting on April 1, Avis customers in ten American cities including San Francisco, New York and Seattle will be able to rent cars equipped with an Autonet mobile unit allowing them to stay connected in their car for a $10.95 daily fee. Once they reach their destination, renters can carry their unit to their hotel room or restaurant table. Founded in Marin County by a former race car driver and wireless network engineer, Autonet Mobile bills itself the “first ISP for cars” and plans to go after the 200+ million cars on the road in the U.S. Car owners will be able to purchase an Autonet mobile unit for $399 with a monthly service charge of $49. “We live in a car centric society,” said Sterling Pratz, CEO of Autonet Mobile. “Today, 40 percent of all SUVs and station wagons come equipped with media centers, supporting music and DVD’s, yet, do not support today’s connected lifestyle of the Internet, e-mail and social media. We are putting the connected lifestyle in the car with an easy to use service for executives and families on the go.”

Dash Navigation directs drivers to local businesses. The Mountain View-based company has partnered with Yahoo to add local search to its Dash Express portable GPS navigation system. According to a company press release, “When a user enters their search term into their Dash Express, the device wirelessly begins a Yahoo! Local search on the web. Within seconds, the results are formatted into address cards and presented to the user as a simple listing of nearby businesses. With the press of a button on the device, the Dash user is routed to their desired destination.” Thanks to this service, a driver hankering for croissants can find stores and bakeries selling the pastry to satisfy his craving within minutes. The Dash Express should be available in California this spring. The rest of the nation will have to wait until the fall. Pricing has not been announced yet.

Seagate’s loaded car. At CES 2007, the Scotts Valley-based data storage company was proudly showing off an out-of-the-ordinary Scion car. The hard drive-enabled car featured 140 Gigabytes of storage for navigation, digital music libraries, video and photo libraries, satellite radio transmission and recording, office applications and web browsing. It also featured an Xbox 360 with a high-definition LCD monitor that is wired for mobile Xbox Live gaming and downloads wherever the car may travel. In an interview with Robert Scoble, Rob Pait, Seagate’s director of consumer electronics marketing, estimated that the extra equipment was probably worth $8,000. This demo car addresses some of the specific needs of automotive computing including a special “skin” over Windows XP to navigate by touch screen, voice and gestures in a way that is less disruptive for the driver and special sensors in the hard drive to take into account pot holes and vibrations.

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