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Palm to get voice recognition via in-car kit

Automobile-oriented offspring MobileAria to create Palm-based hands-free stuff

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Palm bared all last night re. its partnership with US in-car systems manufacturer Delphi Automotive Systems, as anticipated.

The pair will form and fund a JV, called MobileAria, which will develop what the two companies call an "open platform to enable 'in-vehicle' access and management of personal information, mobile Internet services and entertainment through a hands-free, 'eyes-on-the-road', voice-activated interface".

The first systems and services - wireless connectivity, portals, that kind of thing - will be launched Q2 2001.

As we reported yesterday, the deal is a coup for Palm, eager as it is to push its PDA technology into new, broader markets. MobileAria's first product will actually be little more than a Delphi in-car system, Palm PDA and a cellphone all cabled together. That doesn't sound too smart, so MobileAria has to be looking beyond such a proof-of-concept system to something a little more integrated. It will also want to incorporate wider Net-sourced entertainment functionality, such as MP3 download, storage and playback. Streaming audio and video will be pulled in too, as bandwidth capacity increases.

All of this will be provided by MobileAria, who will charge motorists for the privilege. It also expects to see kit to car makers keen to build such systems into future generations of vehicle.

Delphi reckons around a third of handheld device users operate their kit while motoring, and nearly three-quarters of them are interested in voice-controlled versions for hands-free usage.

We, too, are intrigued by the "voice-activated interface". Obviously something along these lines is essential for in-car usage - no one wants drivers fiddling around with styli while their doing the 'ton; messing with mobile phones is bad enough - but voice is doubly useful to Palm, as it provides it with technology it can also use to push its OS into the cellphone arena.

Barking 'set up a meeting with Jane on Thursday next at 11am, then call Steve' into your smartphone is rather more efficient than flipping the keypad down and scribbling it all in using Graffiti. It's a darn sight more intuitive too. ®

Register Factoid

Funding MobileAria with Delphi and Palm is Silicon Valley-based VC Mayfield Fund. One of Mayfield's partners is Janice Roberts, who - you may be interested to know - was once general manager at... Palm Computing...

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