Digital driver


1 April 2005

Everything is going digital these days and the good old-fashioned automobile is no exception. For many years, the Porsches and Mercedes of this world have offered fully primed in-car digital entertainment systems and now this technology has moved down the food chain into the aftermarket to a situation where the average family car can now be fitted out to support a DVD movie system with car cinema surround sound and a viewing screen for each passenger.

Meanwhile, the driver can keep themselves occupied with satellite navigation functionality which will help them pinpoint their exact location on a journey and find the shortest route to their chosen destination – very handy for those family trips to the continent.

Find that stolen vehicle
There are number of companies in Ireland who specialise in digital technology for cars. At the higher end, Celltrak, a technology company based in Tuam, Co. Galway has developed products based around an anti-theft technology called car tracking. These applications operate by combining satellite tracking with the cellular network technology GPRS. If a tracking-equipped car is stolen, a text message will be received to the car owner’s mobile phone pinpointing the exact location of the car. The technology is resold by a company called Scansounds in Phibsboro in North Dublin, and managing director Ted Scanlan estimates that it costs a motorist in and around €850 to have one of these systems installed. The cellular solution is supplied by o2. The market for tracking solutions of this type is, Scanlan says, being fuelled by the Irish insurance companies’ insistence that luxury cars with values of €80,000 and above must be fitted with these security systems. But at €850, they are surely now affordable for the mass markets and not just luxury car drivers. Drivers can also avail of 24 hour tracking services that are offered by third party companies but these solutions are more expensive at €1,295 for the supply, installation and one year’s subscription to the service.

AV in the auto
Audio-visual entertainment is the biggest attraction of in-car digital entertainment. Perhaps surprisingly, even young drivers of modified cars are purchasing in-car DVD systems that integrate radio tuners, with in-dash build and fold out screens. Scanlan says that he has sold many of the lower end DVD systems to drivers in the 25 to 35 age group and these customers are also interested in installing game consoles, amplifiers and subwoofer systems in their motors. An entry level AV system based on DVD will cost at least €1,600. If you want sat nav capabilities on top of that, the cost will rise to €2,800. Although if a driver is happy to settle for CD rather than DVD, then they can purchase a fold out radio CD player with basic sat nav capabilities for around €800.




The digital compass  
Global positioning systems or satellite navigation has long threatened to remain a technology of the future but finally it has hit the present. The appearance of a number of handheld GPS devices from the likes of Garmin and Magellan for less than €1000 has whetted the market’s appetite for this technology.

According to Michael O’Keefe, managing director with in-car technology specialist Safesounds, although these low end handheld devices by used motorists, they cannot compete on the same playing field as fully integrated in-car systems. “The integrated units from companies such as Pioneer, Becker and Siemens VDO are far superior to handheld ones – they are more accurate as they feature gyroscopes for analysing the position of the car and speed pulses for gauging the speed of the vehicle. When it comes to GPS reception, these integrated units are accurate within 5 metres.”

Digital maps
Damian Willis, an in-car entertainment product specialist with AV Imports, estimates that 47 per cent of Ireland has been mapped for GPS by mapping specialist Navteq, as such a sat nav system in a car is linked to 24 Navstar satellites that orbit the planet and this digital map allows the driver to find directions at the touch of a button based on the position of the car. These digital maps are loaded into the sat nav system via CD or DVD. Willis recommends the Avic X1 system from Pioneer. This all-in-one integrated device allows you to listen to the radio and use the navigation system while your passengers watch DVD in the front and the back on optional 6.5 inch LCD screens. The system comes with the digital maps on DVD and this includes all of the maps for Europe on one disc. A key feature of the sat nav module is its ability to intelligently reroute a lost driver who takes a wrong turn by suggesting new, alternative paths to the destination rather than sending them back to the point where they got lost as would happen with more primitive sat nav systems. This swiss pen knife of digital technology for the car doesn’t come cheap at €2,799.

MP3 and WMA support
Alongside sat nav, the ability to playback MP3 and digital music files is a relatively new feature in car entertainment systems. Traditionally, an in-car player would only play CD files, but systems these days play back the popular compressed MP3 format when recorded to CD, and the high end ones will also play back music compressed in Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio format. The AVHP6600 from Pioneer will do so for €1,800. The latter is an important development as it means that in time a driver may be able to purchase and download digital music in the WMA format directly from online music stores such as the Eircom Music Club and Napster. And this is really the vision for in-car entertainment – an Internet connected car with access to wireless broadband. With it, you would be able download and enjoy all types of digital content while on the road – music, movies, photos and even up-to-date tourist reports if you happen to be using your car for holidaying. And of course, you’ll never get lost thanks to sat nav and if your car gets stolen, you can just send a text message to catch the jackers! Now isn’t digital technology wonderful.


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