Q&A: The Changing Look and Feel of the Daily Commute

MUNICH, Germany, April 30, 2003 — Most of us spend a considerable amount of time in the car each day whether its driving to and from work, visiting friends and family, or just running errands. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimated in 2001 that U.S. commuters spend over 550 million hours per week in their cars, and this number is on the rise.

Drivers and passengers dont want their connected lives to become stop and go when theyre on the road. Fortunately todays in-car technology can provide information and entertainment, maintain communication, display appointments and get work done regardless of location. This in-vehicle technology, known in the auto trade as
is the next frontier in staying connected on the road and a mobile revolution that is just now beginning to happen.

On the occasion of the second annual Microsoft European Automotive & Telematics Conference, running April 29-30 in Munich, PressPass spoke with Dick Brass , corporate vice president of technology development at Microsoft — who is charged with the oversight of automotive efforts at Microsoft — about what the evolution of in-vehicle technology means for commuters worldwide.

PressPass: Can you give us an idea of what you mean when you say



Brass: Just a decade ago, a CD player was considered a luxury item for an automobile. Now, with advancements and integration of wireless, GPS and multimedia technology, cars today are providing drivers and passengers access to hands-free phone communication, real-time driving directions and a variety of entertainment options. More sophisticated systems will even be able to link to Outlook and other business tools.

A good example of this is the iDrive system featured in the BMW 7 Series. This in-car device can navigate drivers through a variety of driving conditions from congested metro areas to backcountry roads via an advanced GPS-enabled navigation system. It also provides drivers control of several vehicle systems, from air-conditioning to mobile phone capabilities to vehicle diagnostics all displayed through a powerful in-dash LCD screen. Microsoft provided the operating system that helped BMW design and build the navigation system utilized in the Control Display.

PressPass: Sounds like a development limited to very wealthy, gadget-crazy drivers — and in the U.S. and Europe only.

Brass: This technology started with luxury cars, but it is no longer limited to the high-end market or one geography. Americans can find advanced telematics technology based on our Windows Automotive software platform in the new Honda Accord or the Volvo S60, S80, V70, XC90 and Cross Country models. Drivers in Europe have a range of options available from Fiat and Citron. Japan is leading the way in telematics with Toyotas innovative and affordable G-BOOK, also based on Microsofts Windows Automotive. Toyota is including its G-BOOK telematics system as a standard option on the WiLL Cypha, a car priced at about US$10,000. This standard system provides a truly connected in-car experience with access to Toyotas personal Internet portal called GAZOO. From navigation to downloading music, the G-BOOK is a unique telematics solution that is enabling an extension of the digital access people enjoy in other parts of their lives.

Its true that even with these advances in industry offerings, telematics has yet to experience mass consumer adoption, but we think this is soon to change. From embedded in-vehicle systems to mobile device applications, consumer options for telematics are evolving as wireless technologies and Web services become more pervasive. The telematics industry is poised for mainstream adoption and Microsoft is helping to lead this revolution.

PressPass: Wi-Fi has been touted as the next driving force for the Internet. So, what will drive telematics? What will make it pervasive enough to entice the masses?

Brass: We see three big trends that will drive telematics to mass adoption.

First, interoperability. Your car will be able to make safe and convenient use of the devices you already own, and it will be able to connect to the various networks you already use. Own a recent model cell phone? Bring it into the car and your telematics system will detect it and automatically use it to place hands-free calls, connecting by Bluetooth wireless technology without cradles or cables. Bring in your Pocket PC and the car system will mine its address book, or appointment calendar, so you dont need to maintain separate lists. If you have a Tablet PC, telematics can turn it into a no-compromise navigation system. Bluetooth will connect it to an external GPS receiver to determine location from satellites overhead; GPRS or CDMA will provide traffic updates, and Bluetooth will then provide spoken turn-by-turn instructions over the car audio system. When you drive by a WI-FI equipped service station, or return to your own garage at night, high-speed 802.11 wireless technology will transfer your favorite music and spoken-word programs into the car automatically. Or update the software itself. We liked to speak of this as tearing down the wall that has separated consumer devices from better in-car use, and the car from the networks that surround us.

Second, safety. Speech recognition software and Bluetooth will allow safer hands-free control. Not just for cell phone use, which is becoming mandated in more and more areas, but also for functions like entertainment, climate control and navigation. Locked out of your car? Call your service provider, identify yourself properly, and a signal can be sent to unlock your door without breaking in or summoning a locksmith. Is something wrong while driving? Push a single button and assistance is on the line. And, if you suffer an accident and airbags deploy, help is summoned to your location through the use of GPS and cellular technologies. General Motors innovative OnStar service is already providing this benefit, and I suspect it will be a standard feature of many services in the future.

Third, cost. Some of these functions mentioned earlier are already available in luxury vehicles, or in special aftermarket devices. But the availability of a standard platform like Windows Automotive 4.2 will help lower hardware costs as well as encourage the development of more applications and services. These applications and services will in turn encourage more people to want telematics, which will in turn lower hardware costs, which will increase demand for applications and services further.

At the same time, Windows Automotive and telematics technology can help lower car makers costs and even the price of vehicles. By monitoring key engine and vehicle functions, telematics can relay important information to your dealer and schedule service before things break. It can provide important data on engine wear, performance, brakes and suspension that allows car makers to create better designs that last longer and work better. Formula One racers use telematics to allow their pit crews to monitor and even tune cars as they race, and soon this technology will be available for consumers, as well. It has the potential to lower maintenance and warranty costs dramatically, more than offsetting the cost of the telematics equipment itself.

PressPass: So how close are we to seeing this become reality?

Brass: For this to take place, software must first provide a secure, reliable foundation. The wireless infrastructure has already emerged, though it’s still not universal. A mature cellular network is emerging, 802.11 hotspots are rapidly popping up around the country, and Bluetooth technology has made significant inroads as a standard. At its core, software must support all these standards in order to enable a safe, seamless and connected experience in the car. In 10 years, we think all cars will be equipped with internal and external network connections.

For telematics to become mainstream, software must also provide access to Web services, and that means support for standard Internet languages such as XML and SOAP. This support will enable telematics systems to interact with servers, computers and other devices
on the Web and open the door to capabilities enjoyed in the home and office. Today, technology providers are currently in place to facilitate this wireless connectivity to the Web. For example, MSN provides real-time traffic updates, directions to gas stations with lowest gas prices, and up-to-the-minute news alerts — all examples of services that are available for the car.

Life doesnt stop when you get in the car. As people spend more time on the road, they expect their commute time to be informative, entertaining, and more productive. Drivers and passengers are already experiencing some of the benefits of telematics in todays cars but as this technology continues to advance and become more pervasive, the ability to personalize the in-car experience will soon be at their fingertips.

Microsofts Automotive Business Unit has been working with the automotive industry since 1995 to develop cutting-edge technology for drivers and passengers. Monday we unveiled our latest telematics software platform, Windows Automotive 4.2. This version is the first to natively support voice- and data-enabled Bluetooth, speech recognition technology, and the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework. With these new features, we have a new vision for where we can take telematics. The Connected Car is no longer a futuristic scenario — its becoming real today.

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