Google’s Free Maps Navigation, Ford’s New Open-Source Platform for Sync, and more…

Google’s Free Maps Navigation, Ford’s New Open-Source Platform for Sync, and more…

The big news this week is Google’s release of Maps Navigation, a free personal navigation service available on all Android 2.0 devices. The service, still in Beta, offers features like turn-by-turn navigation, voice search, highlighted points of interest, and content such as Wikipedia, My Maps, and transit lines overlaid on the basic map view. Because the technology is powered by Google, information and search results are always up-to-date. (For more on the Google move, see our feature article ‘What Google’s Free Maps Navigation Means for Telematics’:

“Google Maps Navigation always uses the most recent map, business, and traffic data from Google Maps,” says Michael Siliski, Google product manager. “So users will have access to the richest, most up-to-date maps possible, and there’s no need to ever purchase map upgrades.”

The new service poses a threat to companies like TomTom, Garmin, and other personal-navigation vendors, all of whom watched their stock prices drop shortly after Google announced the service. Google Maps Navigation currently controls only a small portion of the market, but the likes of TomTom and Garmin must consider how to expand their value beyond what Google Maps Navigation offers.

Harman, the international audio and infotainment equipment company, announced that its in-car infotainment equipment will be featured in Toyota automobiles. The move is part of a concerted effort on Harman’s part to broaden its focus from the luxury market to global mid-market brands. Chief executive Dinesh Paliwal said the mid-market opportunity was $5 billion worldwide, and that Harman hoped to control 20 percent of it within five years.

Samsung announced a partnership with the Dutch company Tele Atlas to bring Tele Atlas maps and products to all Samsung GPS-enabled devices. Features on new Samsung-Tele Atlas GPS devices will include 3D landmarks, digital elevation models, and more than 24-million points of interest, which will combine to create realistic and easily searchable user maps.

Telogis, the California-based software products and service company, announced a partnership with MapIT, a digital mapping company in the fleet management industry. The two will combine to offer state-of-the-art geospatial technology to fleet management companies.

Lexus debuted a revised LS 600h L Hybrid to be released in 2010 with a beefed-up telematics system. The LS 600 L is Lexus’s flagship model and aims to be the first luxury car that offers gas-electric hybrid technology. The 2010 model will feature a navigation system with casual language recognition, Bluetooth adaptability, USB/iPod audio streaming, and 24-hour emergency and navigation assistance.

Ford unveiled a new development platform that encourages open innovation for in-car communication. In many of its cars Ford currently features the Ford Sync platform, which enables drivers to operate mobile phones or media players by voice command and offers additional voice-prompted features like 911 Assist, turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic, and weather reports.

The new open-source platform, however, is pushing innovators to take in-car infotainment further, specifically with an eye on Web 2.0. “The impetus to create the program was to help us define the future in-car experience,” says Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader of vehicle design and infotainment for Ford. “We see opportunities to leverage the ‘cloud’ and accessing and interacting with social networks and information sharing to help enhance the driving experience.”

So how might Twitter or Facebook be useful in the car? Let’s say you roll into a new city on a road trip and don’t know where to eat or sleep. Theoretically, you could ask Sync for recommendations. Sync, in turn, could send out a tweet or change your Facebook status and, once your friends have replied, relay that information to you in a menu with turn-by-turn navigation included.

Prasad cautions that such uses are still a ways off. Nonetheless, Ford has partnered with the University of Michigan to offer a course on embedded automotive telematics. Students in the course, which starts in January, will work in teams to develop Sync applications that create social networking interfaces. The best app will be installed in Ford’s first test mule, a Ford Fiesta.

“The key takeaway is that we at Ford continue to think differently about our business and the development of the in-car experience,” says Prasad. “No other automaker is thinking outside of the box like this. The explosion of mobile applications just proves that customers want applications to accompany them in their everyday lives. There is obviously a natural progression of application development from the mobile device to the car.”

Andrew Tolve is awriterfor Telematics Update. Click here to let us know your thoughts on this week's intelligence brief, as we would like to continue this trend in order to give our readers high-level and engaging content.

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