Internet access readied for commercial vehicles

In-vehicle wireless services will make a sharp turn to the business side when General Motors Corp. (GM) previews telematics – in-vehicle computer and Internet service – solutions for its commercial vehicles at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas this week.

Meanwhile, last week DaimlerChrysler AG, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, unveiled a unique in-vehicle wireless solution with AT&T Wireless Group Inc., which it will deploy in all its makes and models including Freightliner trucks, Jeeps, Chryslers, and Dodges.

GMAC will display an in-vehicle tow truck telematics solution in its GMCC7500 Pro-Rollback concept vehicle at the SEMA show, which opens on Oct. 30. The software application is etrace from Gearworks, a Minneapolis-based company that makes wireless fleet management applications for the transportation and field service industries.

GMAC is GM’s commercial and fleet operation division, which produces trucks for vertical markets such as emergency road service, the utility and cable industry, plumbers, electricians, and courier services.

The etrace application would allow tow truck operators to wirelessly manage a field service force. The application includes GPS tracking to send the closest truck to a stranded vehicle, electronic filing of work orders, credit card and receipt printing, and taking an electronic signature for payment.

The etrace software uses a bar code scanner attached to a Palm VII or other handheld device to send back in-vehicle inventory information and also allows a driver to push a single button to send a notification that the truck has arrived at the destination.

“It’s all about managing the last mile of service delivery,” said Keith Lauver, Gearworks chief executive officer (CEO).

Although GM would not commit to saying all of its commercial vehicles will be enabled with telematics in the future, it appears to be where they are headed, said Lauver.

Earlier this month, DaimlerChrysler also announced that as of 2003 all of its commercial and consumer vehicles will include in-vehicle voice services. The system will work by incorporating Bluetooth short-range wireless technology inside the car, which would recognize and connect to a user’s cell phone when the user enters the car. The cell phone would also have to be Bluetooth-equipped.

The DaimlerChrysler concept expands on a user’s current wireless service and does not require the user to have a second cell phone number.

In partnership with AT&T Wireless, any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone will connect to DaimlerChrysler’s built-in Bluetooth receiver and allow a user to make hands-free calls using the vehicles audio system.

All current and future services available for AT&T Wireless subscribers will be accessible in the car, such as AT&T Wireless’ #1-2-1 service, which uses voice recognition to dial out to access news, stock quotes, and weather. Also available will be the AT&T Wireless concierge services such as for restaurant reservations.

“The life cycle of a car is about five years, but the life cycle of a cell phone is 18 months. We think it is better to let the wireless smarts remain with the cell phone rather than in the car,” said Jeremy Pemble, an AT&T Wireless spokesman.

Bluetooth will be embedded in the dashboard, and a special rearview mirror from GenTex will include the microphone as well as a display for caller ID.

Besides AT&T Wireless, the hardware partners include Johnson Controls, which will make the finished module; Intel, with its StrongArm processor; QNX, which will run the system over its embedded wireless platform that does require a second cell phone subscription for services including voice and Internet access.