Most drivers are adept at handling radio or air-conditioning controls while on the highway, but fiddling with a computer keyboard to get e-mail, directions, weather updates, or an Internet-aided look at congestion ahead is a different matter.
Using a Jeep concept vehicle and voice-activation technology, DaimlerChrysler AG is working to ease that Information Age quandary: The automaker is perfecting a system that uses a driver's own laptop for a wireless connection to various amenities, including telephone calls.
Computer technology, after all, doesn't stay current for the lifespan of Toledo-born Jeeps and other vehicles, a DaimlerChrysler electronics specialist said yesterday during a media showing of the Jeep Commander and other concept vehicles at DaimlerChrysler Technology Center's Evaluation Road in the northern Detroit suburb of Auburn Hills.
"The product life cycle for a computer is so different from a vehicle's,'' Stephen Buckley explained. "We think this . . . is the better approach."
The Jeep Commander is equipped with a microphone and monitor to let occupants "communicate" with and get information from a laptop plugged into a console between the front seats. If noise levels in the fuel-cell concept vehicle are too high, a button on the steering wheel lets the driver go through and select menu commands, Mr. Buckley said.
The Commander has a hidden camera so that its owner can keep track of who is driving it - including a thief - and someday the vehicle could start after recognizing a face. Another feature DaimlerChrysler is working with is hooking the vehicle in to the global positioning system network so the driver may receive instant directions. And, the owner's manual could be visual, showing a driver how to change a tire or do other tasks by video, Mr. Buckley said.