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Baby, You Can Surf From My Car

In a move that consolidates its strategy for equipping North American vehicles with wireless features, DaimlerChrysler selected AT& T Wireless to be its development partner and wireless provider.

Traverse City, Mich.-based DaimlerChrysler is implementing what it calls its "telematics strategy," offering voice and data communication tools in its cars and trucks. The deal with AT&T Wireless represents a consolidation of DaimlerChrysler's wireless needs in North America.

Financial specifics of the deal were not disclosed.

In addition to beginning development of a portal with AT&T Wireless for its customers, DaimlerChrysler said that it expects to begin to pilot its telematics solutions in Chrysler Group vehicles before the end of this year.

DaimlerChrysler said the companywide strategy will include the Chrysler Group, Mercedes-Benz USA and Freightliner. Mercedes is a pioneer in hands-free cellular telephone technology, having introduced it into select products more than 10 years ago.

Both DaimlerChrysler and AT&T Wireless said they intend to develop solutions that "reflect their shared commitment to driver safety." Voice-driven apps no doubt will have priority, especially if more states follow the lead of New York, which recently banned the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

"We believe that the customer and the provider will mutually determine the future of telematics in the automobile," said Wolfgang Bernhard, chief operating officer of the Chrysler Group. "Customers will decide what services they want. Our role is to continue to focus on safe vehicle operations."

"On-board communications will become part of an exciting new age of mobile multimedia services," said Don Boerema, senior vice president of AT&T Wireless. "

Telematics has been available in Mercedes-Benz vehicles for several years. Tele Aid, a combination safety, security and communications system launched in April 1999, can notify police of an emergency, offer roadside assistance, track a stolen vehicle and provide concierge services, among many other features. Mercedes-Benz vehicles have also featured hands-free cellular telephones since 1991, with voice recognition systems available since 1994.

General Motors Corp., said to be the most aggressive automaker in the telematics field, has installed its OnStar service -- which includes a feature that allows drivers to get financial information and trade stocks from their cars -- in more than a million vehicles so far, according to Reuters. Ford has a joint venture with Qualcommm Inc. called Wingcast to sell telematics in its vehicles.

Voice interaction with Web sites is coming along fast; just this week Travelocity rolled out a speech-driven customer service application to provide callers with the ability to review their existing travel plans by phone.