OnStar starts Facebook testing

OnStar shows off apps for Facebook in the car and text messages translated to speech.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2 min read
OnStar logo
Onstar announced testing of a Facebook service. GM

A select group of OnStar customers will have the opportunity to start beta testing Facebook in their cars today. We attended a demonstration of OnStar's new Facebook app to see how it works.

Participants can add their Facebook log-in to their OnStar account via the Web. Once enabled, you can hear Facebook status updates in the car. During a demonstration, an OnStar representative pushed the blue OnStar button and requested Virtual Advisor, a voice command gateway to OnStar services. After giving the command for Facebook, OnStar read the Facebook newsfeed out loud in the car.

The system, which uses voice recognition by Nuance, interprets acronyms such as LOL as '"laughing out loud." After hearing a few items, the demonstrator said '"stop," and the system waited for the next command. Telling it to "update Facebook," the demonstrator was then able to record a message which was posted by OnStar as an audio file to his Facebook page as a status update.

OnStar's Facebook application seemed to work safely, as it seemed to us that istening to the newsfeed was as safe as listening to the radio.

Text messages to speech

Another service currently in development for OnStar translates text messages to speech, and lets youchoose from a few canned replies, all without having to look at a screen.

Onstar MyLink
OnStar's MyLink app lets you get service information about your cars on a smartphone. Onstar

For this service, OnStar uses an Android phone app. This app senses when the phone is paired to the vehicle through Bluetooth, and then takes any text messages the phone receives and sends them to OnStar's IT center. A text-to-speech engine translates the message and OnStar relays it to the car as audio. You can use voice command to choose from replies such as "yes," or "I'm driving right now." OnStar takes the reply, sends the text message to the Android app, then relays it as a reply through the phone.

OnStar also hopes to develop this app on the iPhone.

These new services, while still in development, are part of a larger campaign by OnStar to bring itself into the 21st Century. This campaign also includes new advertising, a new generation of hardware, and the previously announced MyLink app, which will first come out for the Chevrolet Volt.

The MyLink app will let you locate your car through GPS, lock and unlock doors remotely from anywhere in the world, and check your vehicle's service status.