We've come a long way since multidisc CD players were the height of in-vehicle technology. Now we're up to our ears in GPS options, MP3 player hookups and cell phone accessories. Telematics, the melding of telecommunications and informatics, is booming. More broadly, telematics involves bringing wireless technologies to vehicles. GM's OnStar system is one of the best-known examples, with more than 5 million subscribers using the service.
When you just can't be without your e-mail and text messages (or want to make the most of your commute time), USTelematics' Vivee2go-G can lend a hand by lending a voice. The Vivee2go-G is a Windows Mobile PocketPC with talking e-mail, text messaging and GPS that works in conjunction with a Verizon phone. The solution runs $300, but to get it for that price, you'll need to purchase and activate a compatible Verizon data-tethering phone.
A related solution is Intelligent Mechatronic Systems' iLane. At $700, iLane is a voice command-controlled device that works with your smartphone or PDA and your hands-free Bluetooth kit or car audio system. It lets you access e-mails, voice mails, text messages, your calendar and attachments without having to look away from the road. One nifty feature is the ability to respond to e-mails with a voice note attachment.
GPS is another major component of telematics. The $560 Mio DigiWalker C720t GPS device comes stocked with a heap of extras, like a built-in camera, real-time traffic updates (with a subscription service), text-to-speech, Bluetooth and pre-loaded maps of the U.S. and Canada, as well as parts of Mexico. Also in the GPS pile is the Delphi Nav300, a $399 device that also sports Bluetooth, text-to-speech and voice commands. For users who desire real-time traffic updates but are wary of ongoing service fees, the Nav300 can be combined with a real-time traffic kit at $199 for a lifetime of service. Other leading GPS device companies to look into include Garmin, Magellan and TomTom.
LoJack is a familiar name in vehicle security. The system helps locate your vehicle and alerts police to its location if it is stolen. The $995 LoJack Early Warning Recovery System includes this standard system as well as two key passes. If the vehicle is moved without the presence of a key pass, the owner receives a notification via phone, text message, e-mail or pager.
Microsoft Sync is a hip entry into the telematics department. The voice-activated communication and entertainment system hooks up with your MP3 player and mobile phone to let you control your music, place calls and listen to text messages while staying focused on the main task: driving. Sync will be available as a $395 option in certain 2008 models of Ford's family of cars. Hands-free and voice-activated is where in-vehicle technology is heading. From iPod hook-ups to traffic-aware GPS systems, entrepreneurs have plenty of compelling options for retrofitting their vehicles. Even better, look for these technologies to eventually become standard in most new cars.
—By Amanda C. Kooser
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