Ford Motor Co. is stepping closer to driving its cars and trucks into the Internet age.
In January, Ford said voice-activated telecommunication, including Internet access, would be available in Ford vehicles in the 2001 model year. Last week, Ford said Sprint PCS will deliver the in-vehicle system.
The new technology includes a voice-activated wireless phone that can be used inside or outside of the vehicle; roadside and emergency assistance; and optional Web access.
The system will be standard on some Lincoln models in North America and optional on the Ford Focus in Europe in the 2001 model year. Ford would not specify which Lincolns will have the equipment.
'We will have this across all of our brands within the next few years,' said Brian Kelley, president of ConsumerConnect, Ford's e-business unit. 'The fact that it is hands-free is critical. Safety is the No. 1 concern of consumers.'
Customers may customize the information to be delivered, choosing such topics as traffic, weather, sports, stock prices and news.
Interaction with the system is by voice. For example, a driver will use commands such as: 'Call John at work,' or 'Tell me sports.'
Eventually drivers will be able to access e-mail and calendar information in an audio format. The on-board system also eventually will be synchronized with other devices such as laptops or palm devices.
An emergency operator will be notified automatically of the vehicle's location if an airbag deploys in a crash.
The voice-activated technology will be network-based, permitting faster updates and improvements, Kelley said. 'These systems are changing faster than the cycle time of cars. A network sitting outside the car can take advantage of that,' he said.
Ford did not announce prices of the services. Monthly fees will vary depending on the level of service provided, Kelley said, adding that basic service could start at about $19 per month. The technology will be free for an unspecified period of time following a vehicle purchase, Kelley said.