Ford plans to roll out the second generation of its Sync in-car connectivity system, which establishes a Wi-Fi hot spot inside a vehicle, sometime in 2010. However, the company has not yet disclosed which of its hot rods will be hot-spot-enabled.
To activate the second-generation Sync, a driver or passenger will insert a USB mobile broadband modem into a USB port, creating a secure wireless connection and allowing everyone within the vehicle to use Wi-Fi devices.
"You're not paying for yet another mobile subscription or piece of hardware because Ford will let you use technology you already have," Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas, said in a statement Dec. 21.
Standard WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) security protocols will require users to enter a "randomly chosen password to connect to the Internet," said a Dec. 21 statement issued by Ford, and drivers must specifically allow a device to connect. In theory, this prevents unauthorized users from piggybacking off an owner's signal.
The first generation of the Sync is offered on 13 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. Originally developed in conjunction with Microsoft and introduced at the Detroit Auto Show on Jan. 8, the feature supports Apple's iPod and Microsoft's Zune, will sync with Bluetooth-capable phones to access their contact lists, and can play music from USB thumb drives.
As smartphones and other devices encourage users to remain always connected, vehicle makers have been incorporating more features into their vehicles that play to that perceived need. For example, a consortium of companies showed the LTE Connected Car, a proof-of-concept vehicle, to reporters in New York on Nov. 3.
That concept car featured four touch screens, allowing access to navigation, entertainment, communications and vehicle diagnostics applications. A variety of companies, ranging from Alcatel-Lucent to Toyota, contributed their particular knowledge bases to the endeavor. The vehicle included an in-vehicle Wi-Fi environment.
While that particular car remains firmly in the concept stage, other automakers have taken more concrete steps. Ford has built a number of next-generation features into its vehicles, such as a 76GHz radar system that alerts the driver to oncoming obstacles.
Ford also developed a MyKey feature that lets a parent program vehicle keys to enable default modes for specific drivers; for example, limiting a teen driver's speed and volume level. Microsoft's Traffic, Directions and Information Sync application provides real-time traffic reports and other data.
These new abilities at least partially stem from new technologies introduced by hardware manufacturers such as Intel, which in March rolled out a series of Atom processors designed for in-vehicle systems. Paired with the Microsoft Auto software platform, the processors power vehicle features such as mobile device syncing and speech recognition.