Cars have been man's most prized possession on four wheels ever since they were invented. With time these machines got slimmer and more powerful, not to forget the continuous experiments with looks and features. As technology advanced so did these highly desirable mean machines.

Information Technology (IT) has invaded almost all the fields today, cars being no exception. And when you talk about IT you can't miss the big daddy Microsoft.

The company has been working with the automakers and suppliers for a while now as part of its Connected Car technology.

The first connected concept cars rolled from the company have the latest applications and technologies. The cars are powered by Windows Automotive technology and provide an array of features. To give you an idea of the environment inside, visualise this the car's keypad control activates a voice recognition system providing personalised traffic updates, driving directions and hands-free phone calls.

Infotainment for cars

Microsoft has been working with the automotive industry since 1995 as a software solution provider. The software delivers information, entertainment and communication services in vehicles. Today, MSN Autos is the world's largest network of automotive research, buying and ownership services.

Windows Automotive is an open software platform for automotives. It provides the foundation and tools for quickly and reliably creating a broad range of extensible, customizable and advanced in-vehicle solutions to meet auto industry and consumer demand to seamlessly integrate technology into the vehicle.

The company has added several new car models to its growing customer base using this technology. Drivers and passengers can now experience Microsoft technology in over 61 preinstalled and aftermarket devices from 18 automakers and suppliers including the likes of BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Fiat, Honda, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Volvo.

The Fiat system

Called 'Blue and Me,' this infotainment system developed jointly by Fiat and Microsoft can help motorists connect their personal mobile devices with the integrated solution in the car. The system is currently available in Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia cars and Fiat Professional's light commercial vehicles. The system is based on Windows Mobile for Automotive.

The package comes with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, which allows drivers to listen to music from their personal integrated media player. It also features a hands-free phone kit that can be controlled by voice commands. This kit connects to a large number of mobile phones and digital USB storage devices.

The carmaker is pretty ecstatic about this new offering and it shows. "We are more than happy that we will be able to offer our customers a system by which they are able to integrate their personal devices effortlessly into the car a solution they cannot get anywhere else," said Giuseppe Bonollo, vice president of Product Portfolio Management at Fiat Auto. The mood is shared by Microsoft. "Consumers can now enjoy their personal mobile devices while on the road, giving them heretofore unknown freedom," said Todd Warren, corporate vice president of the Mobile and Embedded Devices Product Group at Microsoft.

The Ford offering

Like Fiat, Ford is also actively involved in the development of in-car solutions based on Microsoft Auto software. The Ford technology, called 'Sync,' provides consumers the convenience and flexibility to operate almost any mobile phone or digital media player using voice commands or the vehicle's steering wheel or radio controls.

Like Blue&Me Sync seamlessly integrates the vehicle with the popular portable electronic devices of today and is upgradeable to support the devices and services of tomorrow. The fact is stressed by the company. "Not only does Sync offer hands-free phone operation and iPod, Zune or MP3 player connectivity, it's built on a software platform that is upgradeable and will allow us to offer new features by simply upgrading the software," says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president, product development, Ford Motor Company.

The ultimate goal of the technology is told by Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation, "Ford and Microsoft share a vision for a future where drivers are conveniently connected to the people, information and entertainment they care about while they are on the road."

Sync offers consumers two ways to bring electronic devices into their Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles and operate them seamlessly through voice commands or steering wheel controls:

  • Bluetooth, for wireless connection of phones and phones that play music.
  • A USB 2.0 port for command and control and charging of digital media players including the Apple iPod.

The technology will be on all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles in the near future. The system is multilingual, in English, French and Spanish.

The future looks very promising for the automotive industry. The day is not far off when it would be hard to make out whether you are on the road or at home. Surely technology has changed our lives, and will continue to do so! 

The writer is a a guru of tech who runs a trading company in Dubai