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Johnson Controls' BlueConnect module allows users with Bluetooth-enabled phones to make hands-free calls from their vehicles via a sophisticated built-in voice recognition function. It is one of several Bluetooth systems that will enter the market this year, and could be the leading edge of a boom in automotive wireless technology application.
Here’s a marketer’s take on Bluetooth: it’s a revolutionary technology that will allow people to wirelessly connect electronic devices to their cars and do things like make hands-free calls without having to plug anything into anything else. Here’s an engineer’s take: it’s an open wireless standard that uses low-power, short-range (about 35 ft.) radio signals at the unlicensed 2.4 GHz frequency. It has a spread-spectrum, full-duplex signal that hops frequencies at up to 1600 times/sec to reduce interference, and a data transfer rate of about 1 Mbps. Now, here’s the consumer’s take: Great, where is it?
Talk of Bluetooth has been swirling around the automotive industry for several years, but 2003 is the first year that the technology finally will see volume application. For some that is late, but according to Jim Geschke, vice president and general manager of electronics integration at Johnson Controls, Inc., “This is probably the year when Bluetooth is going to pop, and that’s in line with past projections of when we would see large-scale volumes. We are struggling against the ‘hype curve’ because marketing people created unrealistic expectations that were way beyond reality, and when it didn’t happen, expectations fell below reality.” Now Geschke is one of many who think the hype and reality surrounding Bluetooth are about to meet.
What took so long? Marketing hype aside, there have been a lot of obstacles to making Bluetooth ready for mass production, as well as for general acceptance in the automotive industry.
Visteon already has a Bluetooth system available as an option on European models of the BMW X5, 3-Series and 5-Series, and according to Martin Thoone, “has a number of contracts coming up soon.” Delphi will debut its module on the Saab 9-3 this year. And Johnson Controls’ BlueConnect system will soon be in production on an upcoming DaimlerChrysler vehicle, and eventually spread across many DCX vehicle platforms.
There is no Bluetooth application on the horizon that quite stacks up to hands-free phone capability, but one or two may achieve “killer app” status. For example, once a cell phone or PDA is connected to the car it can bring in real-time traffic information, store it in the car’s flash memory and then read it to the driver via text-to-speech. And if the phone has GPS capabilities, it can provide turn-by-turn directions–in effect giving the vehicle a virtual navigation system for a fraction of what a hard-wired unit would cost.
Speaking of cost, the question remains as to whether automakers will be willing to incur the per vehicle cost it will take to install Bluetooth modules on a large scale. Yet the consensus among the system integrators is that this is a matter of when not if. “Our experience is that if you have a value proposition automakers understand they will find a way to get it in the vehicle,” says Geschke, “At the end of the day they have to satisfy the customer and Bluetooth definitely does that.”
What’s In A Name
The name “Bluetooth” comes from the 10th century king Harold Bluetooth who subdued warring factions and united the kingdom of Denmark. However, admittedly perfunctory research shows that Harold’s father, Gorm the Old, actually united Denmark. Harold more or less consolidated his dad’s work. So why the use of “Bluetooth” instead of “Gorm?” Probably because saying you’re from the Gorm Special Interest Group might receive the same reaction as saying you are a plenipotentiary from the Klingon Empire. And where would be the honor in that?