The 2001 model year marks a big step forward for Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. as its expands its TeleAid cellular-phone telematics system throughout its luxury car lineup.
Peter Patrone, manager of advanced product planning for Mercedes-Benz USA, discussed the automaker's future in telematics with Staff Reporter Gail Kachadourian. Here are edited excerpts:
Describe the ideal Mercedes telematics offerings in the 2002 model year.
The real opportunities for improvement are in even more personalized information services, in more applications of voice control technology and voice recognition technology,text-to-speech, speech-to-text, certainly server-based voice info systems; all with the effort of taking as much of the burden off the driver as possible and be able to bring in relevant information in the car, but do it as safely as we can.
What hurdles do you need to jump to get there?
Further improvements in voice control technology, and actually, we're making a lot of progress in that regard, and we'll have something to show for that in the very near future.
How soon will you do it?
In the coming months, not in coming years.
What is Mercedes doing to tackle the driver distraction issue?
What we're trying to do is first of all, weed out information that is not important and that the driver doesn't want. That's one of the reasons why we have all of the detailed work done outside of the car. Your preferences are all set from the Tele Aid Web page, and that you do from the safety of your desk, in the office or at home. We also are trying to make everything as close as possible to a one-button push operation. We also orient the systems so that the default is always to read these things while stopped, and we try and be very light on the text that's displayed as well.
How well does voice technology tackle the issue of driver distraction?
The voice technology is an important component of the solution to the driver distraction issue. But as with anything else, it's not the total solution. First and foremost, there is a basic requirement that the driver be responsible in a moving car. The driver should not be eating or drinking, for example, during critical maneuvers. It goes from that to all sorts of other activities in the car. There have even been a lot of studies that say having an intense discussion in the car is potentially critical if it is at a bad time, when a lot of things are happening outside the car.
How will Bluetooth - a system that enables electronic devices to talk to one another without wires - help?
A lot of the hard-wiring and the connectors that are required to connect devices to the systems in the cars wouldn't be required. If Bluetooth really works as promised, then you'll be able to simply carry a device in the car and have it share information and have it do that without a physical connection. That physical connection is typically what is difficult to keep up with because they change, and it's also expensive.
What role does telematics play for Mercedes-Benz?
We see telematics as the technology that enables customer relationship marketing. We've never seen a technology that so well fits a marketing strategy because what telematics allows us to do, besides the all-important safety features, it also allows us to be in touch with our clients and vice versa. It's more important because it's on their terms. This is one-touch communication that the client initiates. We don't intrude, but we're there at their beck and call essentially.