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    Underwater in Fiji
  • This is a verbatim copy of an article in the Guardian on 7th.December,2000, by Jack Schofield.

    
    'The car is the next big platform in the evolution of the internet," says Ken Enders, the vice president of marketing at Mercedes Benz USA. He is looking forward to a world where ad hoc networks let you chat with or play games against people in other cars, in "communities of like-minded commuters who happen to be stuck in the same traffic jam." And of course, when you drive by a supermarket, the car will tell you what you need. "If your refrigerator knows you're out of milk, your car could know that too," he says. 
    
    The internet is just one of the technologies being adapted for four wheels. Others include global positioning satellite (GPS) systems, vehicle tracking, mobile telephony, voice-activated controls, radar, and a wide range of entertainment systems from MP3 players to back-seat DVD movie theatres. 
    
    People have stopped talking about "in car computing" - a hot topic a couple of years ago - and now refer to telematics, which covers everything from "fly by wire" steering systems to "virtual companions" such as Mecel's McMate, which will tell jokes and reel off DYKs (Did You Know...?). 
    
    All this is starting to happen now. Pat Kerrigan, marketing manager of Intel's US-based in-car group, has been saying for years that "it's not if but when? But it's not a question of when any more. Ford and General Motors will have telematics in all their cars by 2004-5, and by 2008 it will be in the rest of the world", he says. 
    
    In mainland Europe, you can already buy a Citroen fitted with an AutoPC. It looks like an audio CD player, is voice controlled, and can read out your SMS messages and email. 
    
    In the UK and elsewhere you can buy a Jaguar with Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC): this lets the driver set the speed and distance from the car in front, so if someone pulls out in front of you, the car slows down all by itself. A similar radar-controlled system is fitted to some Mercedes-Benz cars, and the company already has a prototype that allows "hands free" autobahn driving. 
    
    In the US, General Motors sells cars with the OnStar system, which puts a human operator on call, and is adding internet access to more than half its models. Ford and Qualcomm, a mobile phone company, are developing a rival service provisionally called Wingcast. If you lose your way in a car park, Wingcast will let you call the car on your mobile and honk the horn. And if the airbags inflate, Wingcast will assume you have been involved in an accident, call the emergency services, and tell them where you are. 
    
    In Finland, tyre-maker Nokian Renkaat is developing "smart tyres" that use chips in each wheel to monitor pressure, temperature, wear and so on. If something goes wrong, they will be able to call the driver's Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone to report the problem. 
    
    Last year when Ford unveiled its 24.7 concept car, which has an entirely "soft" (user-definable) dashboard, chief executive Jacques Nasser said: "This is where the market is headed. It wasn't that we woke up one morning and said, 'Let's do this'. It's because that's where customers are headed." 
    
    Facilities people have at home and in offices, they now want in their cars. 
    
    Hardly anyone is promoting the idea of accessing websites on the move. "It's not to do with using the internet per se," says Kerrigan, "it's about the services you can render, whether it's information, or entertainment, or security and peace of mind." 
    
    Jeremy Schwarz of US-based Forrester Research, who has just produced a report called Cars Get Wired, says safety is the number one concern for US consumers. The key services, he believes, are roadside assistance, stolen vehicle tracking, remote door unlocking, and emergency calls when airbags inflate. He expects the number of new cars fitted with security systems to grow from 800,000 today to a cumulative 30.4 million in 2005. 
    
    The key entertainment features, says Schwarz, are computer games and movies on DVD for the family in the rear seats, plus internet and satellite radio and music downloads for everyone. He expects the number of cars fitted with these entertainment systems to grow from 200,000 today to a cumulative 28 million in 2005, with about half being supplied with new cars and half being fitted later. 
    
    The number of cars with navigation systems will grow to 25.1 million by 2005, and the number with information systems to 16.1 million, with the majority being bought on the after-market in both cases. Schwarz says the key features include turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic rerouting, tourist information and location-based advertising, ticket reservations and restaurant bookings, email, news, share prices, weather reports, and diary functions. 
    
    These features vary in their attractiveness. In an online survey, Forrester Research found that 52% of potential buyers were interested in navigation systems but only 9% in email. The most popular feature, at 58%, was a hands-free mobile phone. 
    
    Ken Hale from Ford says hands-free telephony will be offered in the Ford Focus in the next 12 months, along with GPS navigation and a Traveller Assist service. 
    
    Ken McConomy from Jaguar says voice activation is already available in the F type, "so you can say 'phone home' or tell the radio 'volume up' or 'volume down'." Julian Leyton from Citroen was enthusiastic about the AutoPC fitted to a Xsara prototype that he drove for a month. "With voice control you can adjust all the controls for the CD and radio, and it can read out your SMS messages. After a few days I was besotted with it." 
    
    Leyton thinks this kind of thing is going to catch on, like central locking. "Even if customers are not saying 'I must have this technology', once they've lived with it for a few weeks, they're not going to want to do without it." 
    
    Safety features also have good sales prospects. When Enders explains how Mercedes-Benz customers are trusting the company with their lives, and how seriously that trust is taken, you can easily forget he's also flogging you a very expensive car. Another advantage of this sales pitch is that the cost is inseparable from the price of the car: it is not an option. 
    
    But less important services may be harder to sell, which may be unfortunate for the many companies hoping to make money out of them. 
    
    The car manufacturers are attracted to the idea of information and entertainment services because they could provide a regular income. OnStar users, for example, pay from $200 to $400 a year. However, as Schwarz points out, content providers, wireless network providers and hardware vendors also want a slice of the pie. He thinks most consumers are unlikely to pay for much beyond basic navigation services, so the rest will have to be financed on a pay-per-use model or by advertising. 
    
    The prospects for this depend on usage, which is vast in the US. America has 135 million registered vehicles - "more cars and trucks than homes," says Enders - and people typically spend 90 minutes a day in their cars. Indeed, rather than trying to escape from their little tin boxes, Americans also use drive-in restaurants, banks and cinemas. If they won't buy in-car services, who will? 
    
    There is another side to the story, which is that drivers may be exposing more of their lifestyles than they would like. The advantages of a sophisticated GPS-based information system could mean a reduction in traffic jams (because drivers will be routed away from them), and a better chance of finding a parking space (because cars can be directed only to areas where car parks have room for them). 
    
    But it also allows a car's movements to be monitored, and will certainly make road charging schemes easier to implement. 
    
    Smart cars that learn their driver's habits and preferences may also enable their driving habits to be analysed - and for the analysis to have a direct effect on their insurance premiums. 
    
    And radar-based safety systems that prevent cars from running into one another could eventually take over most of the driving, though researchers on the Path (Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways) project at the University of California at Berkeley suggest that is still a decade away. 
    
    The idea behind Path is to enable cars to talk to one another so that they can synchronise their movements. This will lead to more even speeds, a reduction in emissions, fewer traffic jams, and better use of existing roads. According to the University of California's Centre for Advanced Transportation, a road that can carry 2,000 vehicles an hour would be able to handle 2,927 if half of them were smart cars, and 5,455 an hour if all of them were smart. 
    
    Although drivers can be expected to resist loss of control, some have already taken the first step. The adaptive cruise control systems fitted to some Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz cars speed up and slow down without the driver's intervention, replacing for the first time the eye-to-foot reflex with a computer-based controller. 
    
    Leyton says: "The technology exists to run cars electronically locked together down the fast lane of the motorway. Even I might be quite apprehensive about that, but if you look at the space saved, something like that does make sense." 
    
    And once drivers start down that road, there is no turning back.
    
     

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