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Satyam's mood-detecting motor to run in-car disco

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Satyam has promised to settle arguments over what radio station to listen to in the car when it launches its dot auto platform next year.

The IT services company is using its background providing outsourced services for auto makers to develop its own software and hardware platforms which it will sell to auto suppliers and manufacturers.

Venkatesh Chandrasekaran, head of the company's automotive R&D centre, described its dot auto initiative as the equivalent of an internet domain for the cars. The strategy spans software and hardware which will offer in-car networking and other services.

Chandrasekaran said the platform would be voice-enabled, and allow drivers to access services, such as prepaying for petrol or drive-in food and drink. Naturally, it will feature GPS, and allow fleet owners to track their vehicles, while allowing consumers to find their way from one drive-in to another.

Like other in-car platforms, it would also offer access to emergency services. More esoteric features include "mood" detection, which will influence how the system controls other aspects of the in-car environment.

So, as Chandrasekaran put it, the system would detect if a driver had passengers and was heading downtown, and perhaps cue up some party music. On the other hand, if the driver is on his own, the system will not cue up "sad, moody music". Given the chaotic nature of driving in Indian cities, the system will presumably have a reassuring voice telling passengers, "Don't panic – have you actually seen an accident yet?"

Other likely features would be video conferencing and social networking. Cars have always been a social networking venue, so the mood music feature will also come in handy here.

Chandrasekaran said he expected the full system to be ready for marketing in 16 months, and said the company was already talking to likely customers. It would likely be sold in conjunction with a networking contract, most likely with a wireless broadband provider.

Telco providers apart, Chandrasekaran said the system would be set up to take advantage of whatever connectivity options were available, so it might use Wi-Fi connections if it could detect them, or use short distance connections to find a space in a suitably wired car park.

Even if the full system did not come to market, Chandrasekaran said its features would still find their way into vehicles.

After years of providing outsourced IT services to car makers, including designing and modelling their manufacturing processes, Satyam is looking to develop other off the shelf platforms it can sell to the auto industry.

India is in the process of becoming a car society, with Tata, the parent of Satyam rival TCS, launching the world's cheapest car at one end of the market, and buying up the Jaguar and Land Rover brands at the other.

But while Satyam plans to design the dot auto system down to the board level, and sell other technology packages to the auto trade, it said it doesn't have plans for a wholesale move into the manufacturing business.

Apart from the sheer aggravation of setting up factories, getting into manufacturing would put it in conflict with the very companies it has built it business around. "Satyam as a company we are not into the manufacturing business," said one exec. ®

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