Friday, April 17, 2009

Who Wants A Computer In Their Car?

Now that Ford is offering an onboard computer for its work trucks and vans, could the time be right for the debut of an in-dash computer option in passenger cars? If so, would you want one? I'll bet you will.

Ford's intent right now is to offer a substitute for laptop computers that contractors take to the job site. Computers are useful in the construction trades as replacements for paper forms and planning documents. Ford's offering will include an optional printer to spit out invoices as needed.

Pretty cool technology for trades people, but what about those of us not employed in construction? Seems like an in-dash computer should be pretty useful for sales people, consultants, and anyone else who does business on the road. You'd be able to get messages and documents from the home office, enter orders and print out receipts in your car. FAX messages would come right out of the dash.

OK. Your handy laptop or notebook computer will do that now. So let's take a wider view. For general users, the dashboard PC has some other intriguing possibilities. Let's face it, the onboard navigation system is really a limited use computer itself. By moving that function into an broadband connected general purpose PC, you could do some interesting mash ups.

To me the most valuable would be superimposing weather radar on top of the map display. With GPS feedback, the system could keep the radar display centered on your location and looking outward. You'd be able to see what's coming and find shelter or take alternate routes to avoid the nasty stuff.

While we're at it, the in-dash computer might as well take the place of the radio. This might be the kiss of death to satellite radio if the broadband signal plus some buffering were solid enough to prevent signal cutouts as you drive. How about Pandora on the go? Come to think of it, the vanilla offerings served up by over the air broadcast stations are also at risk when you can design your own station with an almost infinite variety of programming. At that point, local content would again regain its unique value.

With an Wireless Internet connected PC and printer, the landmark and service features of GPS databases could expand to include full website access for the restaurants, retail businesses, service facilities, and popular tourist destinations. Order your tickets and have them printed out as you arrive at your destination.

Of course, we don't want to encourage a generation of drivers with their eyes on the PC and a keyboard in their lap. But there's no reason why the passenger seat couldn't have full access en route. The same goes for remote screens and even game controls or keyboards for the back seat passengers. Perhaps the kids can keep up with their homework when they're not downloading new video content. Make every trip a scavenger hunt with travel games that require you spot certain things and enter a description into the system. A powerful enough computer should have no trouble multi-tasking several screens and input devices.

Include hands-free cell phone service and perhaps two-way video conferencing and you have a complete communications system on the road. What else do you suppose can be included once you have the power of a general purpose PC with a broadband Internet connection right in the dashboard of your car?

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