Luxury vehicle maker Mercedes-Benz is touting its cars as the ultimate mobile computing hardware at this year's Comdex trade show.
Comdex visitors are more used to seeing tiny gadgets than top-of-the-range C-Class series Mercedes cars at the show, but Ken Enders, vice president of marketing at the company, said that vehicles would become a feature of subsequent shows.
"Why do cars belong at Comdex? Today's cars have sophisticated networks of embedded computers that make thousands of decisions. They can get blasted with water and still perform perfectly. Your PC can't do that," he said.
Enders told delegates that the IT industry could learn a lot from the car sector about how to build brand loyalty and develop lifestyle products - challenges that many computing companies are facing today.
In turn, car makers could learn more about how to integrate technologies such as mobile computing and global positioning satellite (GPS) systems into vehicles. "I argue that your car is the next platform for mobile e-services. Ecommerce is just one type of in-car service. Others are safety, information, performance and entertainment," he said.
Each Mercedes car is fitted with a GPS system for navigational purposes, and the company also offers its TeleAid service which provides drivers with in-car information such as news, weather, traffic updates and web content.
At its Silicon Valley-based research centre, the manufacturer is testing a range of future services, some of which aim to lessen the trauma of sitting in traffic jams by using communications technologies to "create communities of like-minded commuters in the same traffic jam", explained Enders.
As well as providing in-car, web-based entertainment, Mercedes is examining self-repair services with drivers replacing software-based auto components by downloading them from the web.
Also under development is the idea of 'info-fuelling' whereby cars automatically fill up on web-based information such as news and entertainment each time they pass 'info-fuelling pumps'.
For drivers that just won't ask for directions, Mercedes is looking at ways to enable them to build their own intelligent and dynamic maps based on up-to-date information provided by other drivers that may have just made the same journey.
Enders told the audience: "We are committed to lead in mobile computing and use mobile services to differentiate our cars. You have a wealth of experience and we are trying to integrate innovation into the ultimate lifestyle product. Together we can work to bring safety and technology forward."
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