Telematics enhance driving convenience

Isn’t it nice to know there are good folks out there working hard every day to make our lives safer and easier?

And, have you stopped to think how we ever got along without cell phones, laptop computers or online banking? Today, consumers expect technology to not only improve, but enhance daily chores, from regulating the temperature in your home to teleconferencing with colleagues in Tokyo when you’re in Chicago.

Granted, the field of automotive on-board connectivity isn’t anything novel, but companies such as Hughes Telematics are blazing a trail of innovation with the next generation of data services and products.

Based in Atlanta, Hughes Telematics Inc., offers location-based connection services for consumers, manufacturers, companies with fleets of vehicles and dealers through two-way wireless connectivity. Within the last couple of years, the company developed Mercedes-Benz’s in-vehicle service, called mbrace, which is available in all current Mercedes-Benz products. An updated version of mbrace is now available, as well as its new networking function called Drive2Friend, which enables drivers to connect to and navigate contacts and friends while on the road.

The big news from Hughes Telematics during last week’s 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show, however, was the introduction of its aftermarket In-Drive data service, and the announcement that the company has secured client relationships with three automotive industry leaders for In-Drive’s comprehensive set of services.

"The field of automotive telematics was very static for many years," said Erik Goldman, president of Hughes Telematics. "It needed to step up and be more consumer driven by offering more flexible services and aids."

To this end, Hughes Telematics has invested more then $170 million in its technology, according to its most recent press materials. Its slogan, "Empower the drive, enjoy the journey," introduces the consumer to the concept of making transportation time more productive.

In-Drive, which is designed to be consumer installed, is a multifunction device that can provide hands-free communication, read the vehicle’s diagnostics or interface with a call center that can provide emergency response or location information. In addition, parents of teen drivers take note: On all vehicles built after 1996, the device includes the Family Co-Pilot Program, which can regulate or monitor the vehicle’s behavior like speed or location in real time. "You can keep track of your teenager and what’s going on with the family car from your desktop computer at home," explained Mike Peterson, Hughes Telematics’ vice president of product management.

Peterson demonstrated Hughes Telematics’ latest, yet-unnamed, mobile-phone application, which will be available later this month through the iPhone application store. The program offers five features, including the Drive2Friend function. "We showed this app to the Mercedes-Benz techs this week at CES and they were very excited," Peterson said. "They all wanted to use it right away."

If you’re still a little overwhelmed by the power and possibility of Hughes Telematics’ products, think of what they offer as a navigation and total communication system in your car on steroids. But, don’t feel like you’re being left behind technologically. Even the major car manufacturers have a hard time keeping up, according to company president Goldman.

"Auto manufacturers are challenged by technological advancements outside the realm of actually building a vehicle and can get behind very quickly," Goldman said, adding Hughes Telematics released three updates to its In-Drive product in one year. "Behind the scenes, this is an ever-changing industry as we work to enhance the telematics experience."

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