A number of large companies attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) seem to be saying that personal computers for cars will be one of the next big computing markets.
Whether this is true remains to be seen, but Clarion is one of the first out of the gate with a real product.
Clarion today introduced a product that combines navigation, communication, and entertainment capabilities in a single automobile dashboard device.
Demonstrated on the CES floor in Las Vegas, the Clarion AutoPC is based on software from Microsoft, including the Windows CE operating system designed for handheld and other small computer devices. Microsoft last night presented its Auto PC technology at CES. (See related story)
While each of the AutoPC functions is already available in separate devices, Clarion president Jim Minarik claims his company will be first to market with an all-in-one machine.
"We think this product will be the driving force for creating this whole new area of multimedia for the car--pun intended," said Minarik. "It's convergence in the car."
Clarion's AutoPC functions as a AM/FM stereo with numerous multimedia bells and whistles. Key to the product's functionality is voice recognition and text-to-speech technology. The device recognizes more than 200 voice commands, allowing users to perform tasks such as making phone calls, finding directions, and changing the music.
The product can also receive news updates, traffic reports, and email and voice mail alerts through a wireless push technology receiver.
For an extra $250, users can also opt for a Global Positioning System, a satellite navigation system that identifies the car's location in order to issue turn-by-turn driving instructions or help locate the car in an emergency.
Automotive computer devices are a potentially vast market, with some predicting millions of units installed in the next two years. Minarik expects that the AutoPC, which is built on an open platform, will face numerous competitors, but claimed his company is between 6 and 12 months ahead of that competition.
The AutoPC uses Universal Serial Bus, a technology for "plug-and-play" connections to a variety of USB-equipped computer devices. The computer also features an infrared port for wireless data transfer.
Powered by a Hitachi Semiconductor SH-3 32-bit microprocessor, AutoPC features a CD-ROM drive (with an optional 6-CD changer), 8 MB of DRAM and 8 MB ROM.
Some devices--such as the car phone--have faced legal restrictions around as legislators have tied their use to increased traffic accidents. Minarik agreed that legal restrictions were likely on domestic car phones, but said his voice-controlled products would only benefit.
"We think that there is good chance of there being legislation saying that any car phone must be hands-free," he said. "The beauty of this platform is that we're anticipating these kinds of trends."
The AutoPC is scheduled for limited consumer availability in April, with widespread distribution to follow in June. The device will carry a suggested retail price of $1299.