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2010-01-08 07:35

Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show, the world's largest annual consumer technology tradeshow. More importantly - is that a sneak of the next generation Focus in the background?

Las Vegas - Ford is going to let you listen to your "tweets" and Internet music and news stations while behind the wheel, as the number two US automaker expands what it calls "in-car connectivity."

Ford executives outlined a number of the new features, which are activated by voice or touch commands to minimise driver distraction, in a keynote speech at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here on Thursday.

The new Internet services, which require a mobile phone with a Bluetooth connection, are a Twitter application built by developer OpenBeak, Pandora music radio and Stitcher, a personalised newscast service.

The US automaker also announced it was in "active talks" with Google about bringing unspecified "devices and services" from the Internet giant to its cars and had forged a partnership with online mapping website MapQuest.

The new technologies being rolled out are systems known as Sync, developed with US software giant Microsoft, which also gives traffic reports, navigation information and even provides a "health report" on the state of the car.

Ford introduced Sync two years ago and president and chief executive Alan Mulally said the company now has more than one million Sync-equipped cars on the road.

Mulally added that the new features will eventually "have a place in every Ford vehicle and not just our luxury models."

Safety concerns

Addressing the obvious safety concerns, Derrick Kuzak, Ford's global product development chief, said making the Sync interfaces "simple and intuitive" was critical so drivers can keep their eyes on the road.

"That's why our technology solution enables hands-free voice controls," Kuzak said. "They have to minimise driver distraction. We even block things like touchscreen destination entries when the vehicle is at speed."

Kuzak said Ford's solutions would help cut down on people fiddling with their cellphones while driving - a contributing factor in many accidents.

"That's the whole point of Sync technology - to minimise the distraction of in-car use of mobile devices you love by connecting and controlling them by voice," Kuzak said.

"Our vision for Sync is that customers can connect to friends and family, to their favorite entertainment devices and to all of the data stored in the cloud using voice commands, touch controls and colorful LCD graphics," he added.

"They can chat with their kids, listen to their RSS feeds, scan their iPods and make dinner reservations all while driving home from work," he said. "And all while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel."

Jim Buczkowski, director of electrical and electronics systems engineering, said among the features that can be controlled by voice commands are the radio, CD player, MP3 player, climate control system, navigation and phone.

MyFord Touch

An eight-inch LCD touchscreen between the driver and the front passenger allows for touch commands, a new system called "MyFord Touch."

Ford said touch technology will be standard equipment on all future Lincoln models beginning this year and will appear in the new Ford Edge later this year and the 2012 Ford Focus.

Doug VanDagens, head of Ford's connectivity group, said MyFord technology will allow Internet cloud connectivity using built-in Wi-Fi.

"The Sync Internet browser can only be accessed when the car is in park, but I think you'll agree that's a good thing," VanDagens said.

Sync product manager Julius Marchwicki said for Twitter, Pandora or Stitcher to work in the car a user needs to have the services as an application on their mobile phone and a Bluetooth connection.

They can be voice-activated or through the car's touchscreen. Users won't be able to "tweet" themselves - yet - but "our customers who tweet will be able to hear their timelines, friends and direct messages," he said.

Marchwicki also stressed they were designed with safety uppermost in mind in a bid to keep "your phone in your pocket, your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road."

Sapa - AFP

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