New Software Boosts ‘Internet Cars’

Two new software products for connecting cars to the Internet are expected to help drivers navigate congested roads.

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) unveiled software Sunday that will control a variety of Internet devices in cars, while Clarion Corporation of America has unveiled software that can alert drivers to accidents and obstructions on freeways.

Microsoft’s latest upgrade is the third version of its Windows CE software for vehicles. It is used to control computing devices from push-button mobile phone service to more complex systems, such as General Motors’ Onstar technology featuring in-dash computers to control video and audio entertainment.

Clarion’s “Odyssey 2000,” developed by Infogation Corp., operates on the Clarion AutoPC and provides real-time traffic updates to U.S. drivers by alerting them to accidents and construction zones.

Moving, Color-Coded Map

Now in its infancy, in-vehicle computing is expected to be a lucrative industry eventually. One study predicted that by 2006, half of all new cars — including 9 out of 10 luxury vehicles — will come equipped with at least some Internet capability, and dozens of high-tech firms are jockeying for position in the market.

In the U.S., GM has been selling wireless Internet access in cars with its Onstar technology, and Ford has promised it later this year. In Japan, Honda, Nissan and Toyota have all begun offering updated, wireless access in their cars. Internet service in Honda’s Internavi gives travel information, such as restaurant guides and the locations of hospitals and repair shops, but does not yet include real-time traffic reports.

Clarion’s Odyssey 2000, which is being offered as an option to new buyers of AutoPC, features a moving map display that is color-coded according to the severity of the accident, as well as text-to-speech and voice recognition functions. Real-time traffic updates are available in 60 cities in the U.S. and Canada.

“Many of the leaders in the U.S. in-vehicle navigation business have been saying for years that the ‘must-have’ application to make the market really take off will ultimately be effective integration of navigation with real-time traffic in an easy-to-view format,” said Clarion president Jim Minarek.

Microsoft Calls for Industry Standards

Microsoft’s first version of its Windows CE software for vehicles was used in the Clarion AutoPC, software that features voice technology bringing together functions of a mobile phone, personal digital assistant and stereo. The company has plans to install the second version in Cadillacs equipped with Internet-ready computers by the end of this year.

Microsoft also introduced a set of standards it calls “” that the software giant is pushing for the industry to adopt.

The standards are based on open computer industry programming, the company said, and would set guidelines for the way the devices exchange information between home, offices and cars and among other devices, including pagers, cell phones and personal computers.

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