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OnStar to demo cloud-based entertainment, is Siri next?

GM's OnStar seems to have a few aces up its sleeve, and will finally show its cards at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Chevrolet Volt equipped with 4G LTE connectivity.
Chevrolet Volt equipped with 4G LTE connectivity.

GM's OnStar seems to have a few aces up its sleeve, and will finally show its cards at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in January.

In addition to showing off the new Cadillac CUE infotainment system and the Chevrolet Volt's smart grid, home connectivity, and energy management applications, GM appears to be doubling down on the telematics and infotainment space. In a Volt research vehicle kitted out with Verizon 4G LTE connectivity, OnStar will demonstrate some upcoming prototype cloud-based streaming technologies.

The telematics company demonstrated video chat using 4G LTE connectivity at last year's show, but this year the product (at least from the photos) seems like it has become more refined. It's also added the ability to stream cloud-based entertainment content throughout the vehicle and added infotainment management in the rear seats.

However, it's not clear how close to production these technologies are. But to give you a little perspective, Audi demonstrated similar technology earlier and said that its vehicles could be equipped with LTE connectivity starting in 2014.

The reason automakers are chasing mobile broadband in the car is because the faster infrastructure will make it easier to make internet-based telematics and entertainment streaming services a reality. It could also be the precursor to Siri-like voice commands in the car.

OnStar currently supports some voice commands using its Virtual Advisor system, and GM's new Intellilink infotainment system already uses Nuance, the powerhouse behind Siri, to drive its 50 or 60 voice activated features. But with Apple's Siri raising the voice recognition bar, GM has an even bigger rabbit to chase than longtime competitor Ford Sync. And GM may not be that far behind.

In an interview last week at the Business Genome Project Symposium with Nick Pudar, Director of New Business Development for OnStar, he said that the telematics service has all the capability to provide the service today.

"It's doable and something we're exploring," says Pudar, "When the timing is right we'll get there."

One of the challenges is making the technology work well in a car. Getting Siri to understand you when you hold the phone up to your mouth in a quiet room is one thing, getting it to figure out directions to the nearest Starbucks with a car full of people and windnoise presents additionally challenges.

The introduction of 4G LTE in cars will provide the infrastructure to better integrate live and automated services, says Pudar. That means that if OnStar can't understand your voice command, you'll be able to switch over seamlessly to an operator. Many companies with complex automated systems use this "whisper tech" to help customers who get stuck on a menu tree. And theoretically, drivers could one day experience it with OnStar.

"The application is there and the technology is there. We need to figure out the right deployment," said Pudar.