- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

LA JOLLA, Calif. Slipping into the Cadillac, I knew there was a problem. The "service engine" light was on.

But what did it mean? Did I have to pull over immediately? Could it wait until I returned from my trip? Well, it turns out that there was a problem with one of the cylinders and it needed attention, and pronto. Fortunately, I was also told where I could go to get it serviced since La Jolla isn't my home territory.

How did I get from a mere warning light to a detailed diagnosis? A high-tech system that works with wireless networking products as well as global positioning system (GPS) and other technologies found the information needed to diagnose the code, present the information on a handheld PC, and look up my location and find dealers to help me. Oh, yes, it also provided a way to download MP3 music for the drive.

The system, from San Diego firm Sensoria Corp., was one of two really mobile i.e., car-based computer systems on display at the DEMO mobile conference held here last Thursday and Friday.

With the Sensoria system, scheduled for sale as an automotive "aftermarket" item in the next year or so, users can share digital music wirelessly between their PC and car; obtain current weather forecasts on demand; find the nearest child-friendly restaurant; or follow the best route to a destination with real-time directions from the most up-to-date databases, and programs such as Pocket CoPilot from TravRoute Software (www.pocketcopilot.com/).

In-car applications such as automatic hands-free calling, voice-recognition, text-to-speech and advanced capabilities are hosted on the "Sensoria Telematics Environment," enabling safe interaction between the devices embedded in cars and wireless devices, such as phones or PDAs, that are brought into the vehicle. The Sensoria Telematics Environment seamlessly integrates these devices with the vehicle's systems through Bluetooth and other wireless LAN technologies. In my demo, I saw a relatively inexpensive Bluetooth cellular phone turned into a high-quality hands-free system.

The company claims the Sensoria Telematics Environment is "the first open standard telematics platform with an in-vehicle information system that supports modular software and hardware upgrades." In plain language, it means the system should be adaptable to changes in the automobile industry as well as in technology.

Sensoria executives hope the system will show up in new cars beginning in the 2002 to 2005 time frame. As an "aftermarket" item, the cost should be substantial, but not impossible for higher-end buyers.

A different experience awaited me when I next sat down in an Audi station wagon. There, hours and hours of MP3 music awaited me, on a $500 device that I plan on getting installed in my car, and soon. The product, SimpleAuto is made by Simple Devices of Burlingame, Calif. (www.simpledevices.com).

SimpleAuto is a digital audio receiver that connects wirelessly to a consumer's PC or set-top box and stores hundreds of hours of MP3 music, Internet radio, syndicated programming, audio books and personalized packages of audio information updates, the maker says. Files can also be transferred from a PC to the storage part of the device via a USB docking station.

The makers envision users either accessing their entire audio collection the 10 GB hard disk can store, in theory, at least 180 hours of MP3 music in the car or create a customized package of optional information services or audio books for a daily commute, a road trip or anytime.

The system consists of a trunk-mounted media storage transceiver that automatically, wirelessly connects to SimpleDevices' SimpleServe software that resides on the user's PC, storage gateway or set-top terminal, via wireless networking protocols. The software saves, or caches, selected content for access in the car. The second element is a tethered remote control, used within the car to access and control the device. The remote control features track, channel, and play-list displays and control, and is equipped with the SimpleDevices' signature TagIt function for interacting with favorite songs and audio content at the PC.

But it's that $500 price point that I love along with the crystal clear sound and no skips or bumps in the music, as can happen with trunk-mounted CD changers. At that price, this would knock those changers out of the ball game, while giving me hours more music than a changer would deliver. As soon as one arrives here, you'll see a full review.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenaline-radio.com every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time.

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