IBM car tech to nab speeders

A $125 million deal with United Arab Emirates will create a nationwide network of cars with "black boxes" to track speed and location.

IBM has won a $125 million deal that will put "black boxes" in tens of thousands of cars in the United Arab Emirates.

The four-year deal, expected to be announced on Friday, calls for IBM to equip cars and trucks with a telematics device and GPS (Global Positioning System) that will provide information on a vehicle's location and speed to government agencies. It will link tens of thousands of vehicles in a nationwide wireless network. IBM asserts this will be the largest application of telematics--or the marriage of mobile communications and computing--as of yet.

If a driver exceeds the speed limit, a warning will be transmitted to the individual car via an on-board speaker. Autos will also be equipped with screens and voice-recognition software to access services planned for the future, IBM said.

The impetus behind the initiative is the abnormally high rate of traffic-related deaths in the Persian Gulf state of the United Arab Emirates.

The country's five-year goal is to halve its accident-related fatalities, which work out at 38 per 100,000 people, said Michael Nelson, an IBM director of Internet technologies strategy who is involved in the project. The U.S. has 15 deaths per 100,000 people, while Sweden's rate is six, he said.

Early prototypes for the tracking device, which is analogous to an airplane's "black box," are expected to be available next year. The plan is to install them in tens of thousands of vehicles by the end of next year, including emergency vehicles and government-owned truck fleets. The country has 2 million residents.

When the four-year contract runs out, IBM intends to compete for the second phase of the project, which will build off the initial infrastructure. The data gathered by the devices can be used not only by the government to monitor traffic habits, but also by commercial companies to offer consumer-related services such as rental cars and hotels.

"If the government of the UAE would like to have someone come in and provide information services to customers, they could do it themselves or hire IBM. We would argue, pretty persuasively I think, that IBM would be in a better position," Nelson said.

Nelson said the contract furthers IBM's strategy for business process transformation services. These high-end consulting services involve both technology and expertise in running business processes, such as human resources or accounting.

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