I recently finished a 2,400-mile road trip from Cleveland to L.A., making the run in 46 hours. I’m always a little nervous about embarking on this kind of trip, although not for the reason you might think.
Being cut off from a wi-fi connection for that long makes me jittery and even irritable at times, and a 2,400-mile road trip makes it hard to stay connected, especially if you don’t have a Blackberry or I-phone. Amazing, I suppose, that there are still those among us who don’t.
You’re probably in the same boat (or car, in this case) in fretting over being cut off from cyberspace. If so, we both hope the march of time hasn’t created yet another addiction to tempt us and from which we have to go through withdrawal pangs.
I suppose it’s for people like us that the latest wi-fi transformation is coming about: dashboard internet.
The idea of in-car internet systems is nothing new, and there is even a history to efforts that tried and failed because they were overtaken by other permutations of mobile wi-fi gadgetry like those Blackberries and I-phones. For example, Opel unveiled a concept system way back in 1999 that featured on-board internet, although it was for back-seat passengers and featured a now-outdated laptop keyboard instead of a touch screen.
Wi-Fi in 1999? Yep. As of July 2005, there were at least 68,643 Wi-Fi locations worldwide, a majority in the US, then the UK and Germany.
But Ford is forcing other automakers to revisit the idea of in-dash internet. A few years ago the company introduced the SYNC information system, which let drivers voice their commands to the dashboard MP3 player. Other car makers caught on, developed similar systems, only to have Ford take things a step further with its MyFord Touch (and My Lincoln Touch) system, which is plans to launch this year in the Lincoln MKX.
The new system is built upon an approach Ford calls “simplexcity,” in which the goal is – what else – to make things simple. So ditch the archaic laptop keyboards (hard to drive and type at the same time, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission would have something to say about this anyway). Enter the touch screen keypad and a safety feature allowing the driver to browse the Net only when the car’s transmission is in Park. Photos and a video of the new system can be found at http://www.spike.com/blog/ces-09-myford-touch/91242
The MyFord system lets drivers use their cars and trucks as WiFi hotspots by plugging in a compatible USB mobile broadband modem into the vehicle’s USB port, which will then makes available a secure WiFi signal throughout the vehicle. So your passenger could play Scrabble with a friend back home while you’ve just passed the last gas station for 80 miles in the Mojave.
But Ford isn’t stopping there. The company has also worked with partners in creating some new bluetooth interface software they call the “App EcoSystem.” So it will be possible for new devices like an iPhone or Android-driven cell phone to interface with the MyFord system, letting the phone show information on the car’s display, have the device read back text from the phone in oral verbal format, and even send some data back in the mobile device.
For technophiles out there, here is a partial list of what Ford says the new MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch systems, powered by SYNC, will offer:
- SD Card slot
- Additional USB port for a total of two USB 2.0 inputs
- RCA A/V input jacks
- Full WiFi capability including Internet “hot spot” connectivity and a built-in browser for use while in “Park” (late availability)
- Integrated browser supports tabbed page navigation, “drag” to pan and scroll and a provides a 3-D carousel for bookmark browsing
- Support for on-screen and USB-connected keyboards
- RSS feed aggregator and text-to-voice reader
- Mobile in-car WiFi “hot spot” capability through USB-installed air card or USB mobile broadband modem
- Phone book contact photo download and 3-D carousel browsing
- Birthday reminders
- Enhanced error correction and reporting
- Direct speech commands and “flattened structure” for quicker, more responsive voice control
- Voice-command activation of selected climate control functions
- Voice commands will be available for most radio functions, including AM/FM, HD RadioTM Technology and SIRIUS/XM® Satellite Radio
- SIRIUS Game Finder application will facilitate automatic voice tuning for desired sporting events using commands such as “Tune to Detroit Lions game” or “Show NFL games”
- AM/FM/CD, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, USB-connected MP3 players and memory sticks
- New HD Radio capability
- Song tagging capability via HD Radio Technology, allowing listeners to identify song information and store it for later use
- Browse tracks by artist, scan lists of tracks with identical names, and browse through devices without having to change audio sources
The technology launches this year on 2011 Ford Edge and goes global with availability on 2012 Ford Focus. MyLincoln Touch will be standard equipment on new Lincolns beginning with 2011 Lincoln MKX.