Ah yes, nothing like the American dream of driving the open road with a convertible top down, stereo blaring, and spam e-mails coming across your dashboard's personal computer.
Like it or not, in-car e-mail will soon become a standard feature in most new car models, leaving us to conjecture that if Jack Kerouac were writing "On the Road" today, he and Neil Cassidy would be hitching rides not for transportation, but for checking e-mails.
Convenience towers as an in-car Web's wow advantage. Drivers will be able to access on-demand traffic updates, parking situations, maps and directions, and weather reports, creating the nifty sense of traveling with a private news team.
Secondary advantages include using it to secure restaurant reservations or purchase movie tickets on the fly, find immediate mechanical help in the event of a breakdown, and communicate via e-mail.
Critics cite auto safety as the biggest disadvantage. Driver attentions are already frenzied by cell phones and DVD players―the addition of Web and e-mail access, critics fear, will up road accident rates.
To counter this charge, manufacturers are programming car PCs to operate only when vehicles are stopped. Others are implementing voice command systems (imagine a computerized office helper) to read e-mails, text messages, and calendars so drivers can still focus on the road while communicating.
Because car PCs are just metamorphosing from an idea into reality, manufacturers are still working out reception kinks. Currently, Internet access can be fetched only through cellular phone signals. But manufacturers predict reception upgrades within the next few years when dashboard computers convert to WiMax, a far-reaching Wi-Fi system with increased bandwidth.
There are several models currently available. Rhode Island-based KVH Industries offers the TracNet 100. This component system converts vehicles into personal Web stations. With it you can access the Internet on dashboard navigation screens or on laptops anywhere in your vehicle. The system costs just under $2,000 and requires monthly reception fees.
Intelligent Mechatronic Systems out of Canada features the safety-friendly ilane system. This handy device provides a voice interactive computer via Bluetooth, allowing you to drive and monitor e-mails at the same time without ever taking your eyes off of the road or your hands off the steering wheel. Approximate cost: $700.
Every major car manufacturer, including Honda, Nissan, and Volkswagen, is striving to make in-car PCs available in all newer models. Ford has already jumped on this trend by making all of its F-Series pickup trucks PC compatible. For $2,999, F-Series owners can equip their trucks with FordLink, a dealer-installed mobile office system.Other Topics in This Section
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