It is here: The WiFi-enabled car. In keeping with the times, manufacturers say that the in-car system will, in the not too distant future, move to WiMAX. The automotive PCs will allow car drivers and passengers to check their email and make restaurant reservations, but also avoid traffic jams and the scenes of traffic accidents. Here are some of the developments on this front:
- Ford Motors: Customers who buy F-Series pickups can now ask the dealer to equip their truck with FordLink, a $2,999 option which went on sale in September. The automotive PC is mainly aimed at contractors who want to order materials or use e-mail to contact subcontractors and customers from the cab. A rugged PC sits in a cradle in front of the dashboard. The PC, which runs Microsoft XP software, can also play Internet radio and MP3 music files.
- KVH Industries: The TracNet 100 system (about $2,000 for the hardware and $79 monthly for the connection) displays Web pages on a vehicle's navigation and video screens and offers a wireless connection in the car. Web access in vehicles "is going to be as common as cell phones," predicts Ian Palmer, executive vice president at KVH.
- Microsoft is working with Azentek to offer drivers two small PCs next year. The first is about the size of a cereal box which can be carried around and inserted into the dash where the stereo is located; the second, more powerful model, is installed in the dash. The prices for both systems will start at about $2,000.
PC and car manufacturers take safety seriously. For example, drivers will not be able to view email or access the Internet unless the car is stationary. Some nimble companies are quick to address this particular problem for drivers-on-the-go: Waterloo, Ontario-based Intelligent Mechatronic Systems (IMS) will next year launch its iLane cradle for PDAs. The cradle uses a synthesized voice to read arriving email, scheduling reminders and text messages.