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Publication Number:      Date:  Sept/Oct 2000
Issue No: Vol. 64 No. 2
Date: Sept/Oct 2000


Internet Watch

by Kandace Studzinski


You have Internet access at home. You have it at the office. You can even stroll to your local cybercafé‚ and read your e-mail while sipping your skim latte. But soon, high-tech, Web-savvy, Americans will have access to the Internet -- you guessed it -- in their cars.

The market research firm IntelliQuest Information Group found that 47 million people in the United States were online during the fourth quarter of 1996.1 With 760 households joining the Internet per hour (according to Harper's Magazine) and with Americans spending an average of 500 million hours a week in their vehicles (according to Wired Magazine), Web access in the vehicle seems like the next logical step.

Estimated number of Internet users, worldwide, at the end of 1998: 147,800,000
Estimated percentage living in the United States: 52

Estimated number of e-mail messages that will be sent in the year 2000: 6.9 trillion
From the Harper's Index

>New vehicles are offering more than just access to e-mail, they have hands-free cellular telephones and global positioning systems that can map routes for drivers and alert them to traffic conditions. Telematics ­­ the convergence of wireless technology, global positioning systems (GPS), and onboard electronics in automobiles ­­ are the future of the automotive industry.

>The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has studied telematics through their Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI). In fact, on July 19 and 20, DOT and the Society of Automotive Engineers played host to transportation leaders who discussed the future of these "smart cars" and the impact of these technologies on the nation's roadways.

>IVI was launched in 1997 to accelerate the development, availability, and use of integrated in-vehicle systems that help drivers of cars, trucks, and buses operate more safely and effectively. It's a cooperative effort between the motor vehicle industry and four agencies of the U.S. Department of Transportation: FHWA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration. IVI's role is to research and advance integrated concepts that have safety implications or benefits that will probably not be accounted for by the marketplace or are too far from commercialization to be of interest to most companies.

>But many companies are already exploring telematics and are beginning to commercialize some of these technologies. For example, Motorola is teaming up with Capital Metro in Austin, Texas, to create a workstation on wheels. Commuters may soon experience a vanpool equipped with data ports and technology workstations, allowing them to get a jump start on their day by checking e-mail and electronic calendars while on their way to work. When these individuals arrive at the office, they are ready to begin their work day while the rest of us may spend nearly an hour checking messages sent the night before.2

>High-tech companies are also working on prototype variations of the car radio, which would bring the Web to your car using a voice-activated system. This would allow access to Internet data such as news headlines, sports scores, stock quotes, and e-mail.3

>So, how soon will Internet-capable cars be on the roadways? Many companies have already developed prototypes of these technologies, but it's difficult to tell when intelligent vehicles will hit the market. Right now, some luxury cars already offer features such as in-car guidance systems and hands-free cellular phones. In fact, General Motors will provide some Internet access in new models to be released this fall, including a screen capable of downloading e-mail and doing limited Web browsing only while the car is parked.2

>Ideally, telematics will not only offer the convenience of Web access in your car, but will also lead to the development of safer, more reliable vehicles. In fact, a key goal of DOT's IVI program is to find ways to integrate intelligent technologies without compromising safety. Exactly when these high-tech extras will be made readily available is uncertain; however, we do know that automakers, software companies, and cellular telephone manufacturers already have in hand the know-how that could transform the car from simply being a mode of transportation to being a virtual supercomputer on wheels.


  1. >"Survey: Internet Use Surging," CNN Interactive, Sci-Tech Story Page, Feb. 21, 1997.
  2. > Kelly Daniel. "Commute Even the Techies Could Love," Austin360. com, June 26, 2000.
  3. > Dave Carpenter. "Car Radio of Future Arriving," Associated Press, July 2000.

>Kandace Studzinski> is assistant editor of Public Roads. She is employed by Avalon Integrated Services Corp. of Arlington, Va.



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