Bluetooth Makes Telematics a Reality
By Niall McKay in Silicon Valley, Mon Sep 30 00:00:00 GMT 2002
Telematics are taking off, driven by a technology you might not have expected.
Locked out of your car? Dial a
number; enter a pass code and you car door pops open by remote control.
In an accident? Then the vehicle's GPS system will report your
position to the emergency services. On your way to work, the car can
also read your email or stock quotes. At last these were the sales pitch
for the (automobile) telematics industry, a sector that at one time was
predicted to generate between $30-$40 billion by 2007.
course, that was during the heady days of the high-tech boom since then,
Wingcast, a Ford and Qualcomm joint venture, was shut down and OnStar, a
General Motors system that assigns each vehicle with a unique telephone
number is finding it difficult to retain its customers after the first
initial free trial year.
In fact, many believe that Bluetooth, the
short-range wireless networking standard is a far better solution and
could become the glue that underpins a new telematics industry. This
time the proprietary systems that combine cellular technology, Internet
access, GPS and navigation will be replaced with off the shelf cell
phones, PDAs, MP3 players and navigation systems.
originally designed for devices such as PCs and printers in the home
could give vehicles the ability to communicate dozens of computing
devices. With it, in-vehicle computer systems that until now carry out
some pretty useless tasks such as predicting gas mileage and relaying
the outside temperatures could become smart enough to screen your phone
calls, pay road tolls, and guide you to your destination. Eventually,
such systems could even include collision avoidance technology (standard
in aircrafts) that could prevent your vehicle from hitting an SUV
traveling 90 miles an hour in the opposite direction. Currently, car
manufacturers such as BMW and Saab and cellular companies such as
Motorola and Sony/Ericsson are building Bluetooth in new vehicles and
cell-phones because of the increasing legislative pressure to prevent
drivers from using their cell phones in normal mode while driving.
And with good reason. After all, according to a recent study by
the UK-based Transport Research Laboratory driving while operating a
cell phone is more dangerous than driving over the legal alcohol limit.
And yet over 78 percent of America's 120 million cell-phone users
talk and drive. That is why in many parts of the EU and now some parts
of the US such as New York it has become illegal to chat and drive
without a hands free car kit.
So BMW and Saab and have started
to use Bluetooth to provide the driver with a hands free/eyes free way
to send and receive cell phone calls while on the move. The automobiles
in car audio system, or more specifically its speaker system,
microphone, and muting function are pared with the owner's cell
phone (which might be in a jacket or bag in the back seat or trunk).
That way, the driver does not have to find a cell phone while on the
move. The eyes free functions include voice recognition technology,
which will enable the user to simply say the name of somebody in their
cell-phone directory and the car systems will retrieve their number from
the SIM card via the Bluetooth link. In the near future new display
technology will enable certain information to be displayed on the
car's display systems.
According to a report
compiled by the Zelos Group, a research consultancy based in San
Francisco, 150,000 vehicles will ship with this Bluetooth this year. By
2006 about 4.9 million cars will include Bluetooth connectivity. (see
"However, once you have a connection into the
vehicles computer system it becomes possible to use that connection for
all sorts of applications," according to , principal with the Zelos
Group. "I believe that Bluetooth will over take the telematics
space replacing many of the proprietary systems with off the shelf
applications. Automotive cycles times are really long but in time I
think that Bluetooth will be come as ubiquitous as car
Certainly, Mike McCamon, executive director for
Bluetooth SIG, Inc. agrees. The automotive Special Interest Group, has
completed the hands free/eyes free Bluetooth profile. "In the near
term we should be able to sync MPEGS with the audio or video hard disk
in the car, and send electronic business cards to the cars navigation
system," says McCamon. "In the long term we should be able to
play videos or mp3 over a Bluetooth link or pay for things (such as
bridge or road tolls or gas) electronically."
McCamon admits to finding himself surprised by the automotive sectors
interest in the technology. "Originally, we had not anticipated the
popularity of Bluetooth with the auto industry," he says. "But
now every major auto company is evaluating the
The Oakland, California-base Kivera,
which provides location-base software and systems to automotive
suppliers such as JD Power and Associates and Denso is also building a
system for AAA and AT&T.
"The problem today is that
many navigation systems store their maps on DVDs or CDs but these can
become obsolete pretty fast," says Mark Strassman, Kivera vice
president. "With our product you can hit a button on the dash and
it will dial out to our server, retrieve the driving directions, the
route and the traffic information and upload them to the car screen
using Bluetooth. If you accidentally veer off the rout the cell phone
will notify the system and new directions will be retrieved."
However, such GPS based navigation systems tend to be most popular in
Japan where there are no street names and finding a destination can be
The system can also be used to provide AAA customers
with a way to relay their location during a break down. "Basically,
AAA is a location -services company so they are very interested in this
technology," says Strassman.
Extended Systems, a company
that produces Bluetooth software development kits to the auto services
industry believes that the combination of Java and running on in car
real-time operating systems and Bluetooth will open up a while slew of
previously un thought of applications. "In the past, the such
things have created application development mini-revolutions," says
Glade Diviney, spokesman for Extended Systems. "Once a hands free
profile is created other profiles can be added with no hardware
For example, says Diviney, a wireless
serial port can be added for car diagnostics, car alarm, garage opener
and point of sales transactions. File synchronization also allows music,
games and videos to be transferred to the cars entertainment system.
Still, the current leader in auto telematics is the OnStar
system with over a 1 million users but, as yet, it does not use
Bluetooth. DaimlerChrysler by contrast will this fall will begin
offering Bluetooth system called UConnect. And Sony Ericsson Mobile
Communications, and Chapman Technologies have signed a $142 million
agreement to collaborate in the development of a telematics platform
using CDMA technology. Meanwhile Motorola is pushing Bluetooth as the
open-standard for in-car, hands-free mobile phone kits. And that is just
the beginning. A French company called Parrot is offering a sub-$500
Bluetooth car kit that will work with almost any
Certainly, hands free/eyes free solutions
may be the application that popularizes Bluetooth in the vehicle but it
will be the ability to sync or devices such as MP3 Players and
navigation systems that will likely grow the market. One thing is for
sure though. The larger expensive systems will not cut the mustard. As
always with the high tech industry it is the simple applications such as
relaying snap shots from traffic camera, or the ability to play your
favorite tune that will out pace the rocket science such a the ability
to know the exact latitude and longitude of your vehicle.
lets face it, technologically; the automobile industry has few reasons
to be proud. Since Karl Benz built the first gasoline powered vehicle
back in 1889 cars have progressed little. Sure, they're safer now
because of micro-controllers that operate antilock breaking systems and
airbags. They have also added some rudimentary engine tuning technology
but in many ways they are still the filthy, inefficient and essentially
stupid hunks of iron that they always were.
In fact, if the
computer industry were to have made as little progress we'd still
be feeding magnetic tape into machines the size of city busses. But
perhaps an open platform such as Bluetooth will change that taking cars
from being deaf and dumb and blind to being able to talk, listen and
even see the outside world.
is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo Japan. He can be reached at