Delphi puts Bluetooth on wheels

Delphi Corp. is giving Bluetooth wheels: The mobile electronics company has several cars with systems using the wireless radio technology on show at its stand here.

However, only one of the display models will actually make it to the road, all the others are concept cars. Delphi has allied with Saab, part of General Motors Corp. (GM), on the new Saab 9-3. Bluetooth will be factory installed and used mainly for hands-free communications, Delphi said here at the Consumer Electronics Show Wednesday.

The Saab 9-3 with Bluetooth is already available in Europe and should go on sale in the U.S. later this year, said Tom Wright, the Delphi systems engineer who worked on the system. The car has its own built-in mobile phone, and Bluetooth is used to connect a wireless headset, he said.

Auto makers and analysts believe consumer use of Bluetooth will be boosted by legislation curbing cell-phone use in cars. DaimlerChrysler AG last year beat Saab and GM to offering a Bluetooth kit, but only as an option.

The technology that became Bluetooth was invented almost a decade ago as a cable replacement technology. It offers data transfer rates of up to 768K bps (bits per second) and operates in the 2.4GHz frequency band, the same as many cordless telephones and 802.11b WLAN (wireless LAN) technology.

Other applications on show at the Delphi stand include an off-board navigation system, where Bluetooth is used to connect to a phone that dials up a service providing for the route information. Traditional navigation systems in cars have a compact disc with route information. With the off-board system, the user always has up-to-date information.

Although the systems are demonstrated in the majority of the nine cars Delphi parked at its booth, it will be at least three more years until a regular parking lot will see similar Bluetooth penetration, said Jay Adams, business development manager at Delphi, of Troy, Michigan.

“You won’t see Bluetooth in cars until 2006 models and beyond. We are showing car makers now that we can do this,” but it will be a few years until they can work it into their model line-ups, he said. Many auto makers are waiting for Bluetooth-equipped mobile phones to become common, he added.

Delphi’s announcement is one of many featuring cars here. The North Hall of the Las Vegas convention centre resembles a large luxury car showroom, with vendors using pricey sedans, convertibles, sports cars, SUVs and even hotrods to show off their satellite radios, navigational systems, entertainment systems, game consoles and, of course, stereos.

Perhaps the most extraordinary showcase is to be found at the booth of Visteon Corp. There, Lantronix Inc. is showing a prototype which links a car to a home network using 802.11b wireless LAN technology. From outside in the driveway, the system can turn on the lights in the home, set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature, disarm the security system and start the home’s entertainment system, for example, according to Lantronix. How’s that for a welcome home?