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January 10, 2009

Chrysler unveils in-vehicle technology concept

Screens for the passenger and driver, smart phones and customization are cues of Chrysler LLC's vision of the infotainment system of the future.

The automaker will show a vehicle equipped with the next step in its uconnect system at the Detroit auto show today.

The concept is still in the early stages but it attempts to connect car owners with the rest of their world, including their home, friends and work using formats made popular by such Web sites as Facebook and Twitter. The system links "buddy" vehicles that show one another's location and can share directions and music while communicating via instant messaging.

"The direction of the car is to be that connected going forward," said Stephanie Brinley, a product analyst with AutoPacific in Troy. "The way the industry is going is to be seen to be connected when you go from your house to your car to work to your friends. You won't stop being connected when you are in your car."

The system also works to better customize your car. A personal smart phone can be used to locate your vehicle, unlock it, start it and set personal settings such as seat position, temperature and radio stations. If the vehicle is stolen, the phone can disable and locate it using satellite imaging.

Inside, the center gauge cluster can be customized to be digital or analog, the navigation screen can be operated via voice or a thumb wheel similar to an iPod. A carousel of music selections appears, songs can be purchased from the Internet, contacts can be called and directions mapped to their location.

The advanced navigation system offers real-time traffic and weather data and can recommend the most fuel-efficient route.

A teen setting can be placed on the vehicle to limit speed or warn the owner if it is out of a specific range or being driven erratically.

Hidden in the dashboard is a personal computer that slides out for the front passenger to access the Internet and the navigation system. The passenger can glean information and send directions, for example, to the driver's screen. This mini computer can also be passed to those sitting in the back seat.

Ford is pursuing a similar path with its Sync infotainment system. Brinley said the Ford system may be closer to reality, but both automakers are reliant on partnerships as this type of technology is not considered part of their core competencies.

The advancement of unconnect is part of a renewed emphasis on better interiors, said Chrysler head of design Ralph Gilles.

"We weren't giving ourselves enough time to do interiors," Gilles said. So the process has been changed to add 40 weeks to the development time, almost an extra full year to ensure all details are taken care of.

The move brings suppliers into the process sooner.

And Chrysler developed new software that creates a three-dimensional interior to aid design.

The result is greater attention to detail and improvements such as rubberized adjusters on vents for better grip, Gilles said.

Frank Klegon, head of product development for Chrysler, said uconnect has plans in the works for commercial vehicles, as well.

LINK:Chrysler unveils in-vehicle technology concept | | The Detroit News
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