Intelligent Mechatronic Systems Inc. has modified its flagship iLane platform — an in-car device which gives users the ability to operate their BlackBerry via voice commands — for specialized use in the “for-hire” vehicle industry.


The Waterloo, Ont.-based firm officially launched Prompt on Tuesday, which it said gives taxi and limo drivers a “hands-free,” voice-activated tool to communicate with their dispatch centres. The portable unit works via a vehicle’s cigarette lighter or 12V outlet.


“This is not the same as iLane,” said Tony Cassetta, chief operating officer at IMS. “It’s modified to essentially be custom fit for the for-hire vehicle market.”


Functionality includes the ability for drivers to securely sign into central control, receive job information, accept and decline jobs, communicate estimated time of arrival back to dispatch, and provide load/unload confirmation.


The tool, which supports BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices, uses Bluetooth technology to link a driver’s smart phone with the Prompt device. The only other accessory needed is a sound-enabled device to transmit commands into Prompt.


IMS teamed up with New York-based solution provider Tecorien to engage in a Prompt pilot project with select black car and limo service drivers in New York.


The project was created in wake of the strict hands-free driving laws being enacted throughout North America recently. With the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission specifically, drivers can have their licences revoked for three violations within a 15-month period.


Cassetta said the pilot will help IMS add new features and functions to the platform.


One use-case for Prompt discovered through the pilot is the ability for drivers to say a codeword that notifies central dispatch when they’re in trouble. Cassetta said the emergency signal that many taxi companies typically use has been found ineffective because the public too often ignores the distress signal.


Gene Sorkin, chief operating officer with Tecorien, said the device can be modified within a matter of minutes and was specifically created to work with the New York limo service’s existing software.


“As far as the dispatching centre, everything looks the same,” he said. The only difference on the drivers’ end is they verbally issue their commands as opposed to dangerous typing them into their smart phones, he added.


Sorkin added that Prompt received approval from New York’s TLC as a legal product.


In addition to its applicability to “for-hire” vehicle services, both Cassetta and Sorkin said the platform could quickly be spun off for any company with a significant fleet management division. He said a large courier company has already expressed interest in a specialized version of the product.


IMS has also worked with companies to modify its iLane platform.


Currently the unmodified device allows users to hook their BlackBerry into their car, and once plugged in, reads out e-mail and weather reports to the user. The platform also allows customers to compose SMS messages and operate their phone’s calendar functionality via voice commands.


Upon iLane’s release in late 2008, Info-Tech Research Group Ltd. analyst Mark Tauschek said the platform’s steep price tag would hinder it from gaining penetration among many consumers and businesses.


“It’s neat and everything, but it’s a pretty expensive neat, if you ask me,” he said.


The suggested retail price has dropped about $200 in price since that time, and now costs $400. IMS has also expanded beyond BlackBerry devices to support Windows Mobile phones.


While companies will have to purchase modified iLane devices to roll out the product themselves, Sorkin said the company will be flexible for organizations looking to make bulk purchases.

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