Building the Plug-and-Play Car
By Michael V. Copeland

(Business 2.0) – There is a Buick (or Toyota or BMW) that wants to talk to you. And to your cell phone, your e-mail server, and that massive collection of music and movies you'll soon have squirreled away on your home entertainment server. What prevents the conversation from happening now is the lack of standards for the rolling computing platform known as an automobile. That is about to change.

Separate engineering gangs with bad acronyms--AMI-C (automotive multimedia interface collaboration) and OSGi Alliance (formerly known as the open services gateway initiative)--are toiling to come up with standards for both the computing that controls the car's functions and services like XM radio and OnStar. AMI-C, a nonprofit association backed by major global auto companies, is developing a sort of "plug and play" for cars--a method of detecting and communicating with whatever piece of electronic gear is introduced to the car. Engineers at OSGi's member companies are writing code to standardize services like video streaming, navigation, and remote engine diagnostics. Although it will be years before cars go completely open standard, some proprietary systems are already yielding to standardized versions.

The introduction of a common network architecture for cars figures to unleash a flood of new gadgetry and services, and to help quadruple the size of the telematics market to $20 billion by 2010. Car shoppers need only pick the peripherals or services they want, and the dealer plugs in the hardware and installs the software. And then a new set of wheels--or more precisely, a Wi-Fi- or 3G-enabled entertainment center and voice-activated e-mail- and cell-phone-equipped mobile office--is ready to roll off the lot. -- MICHAEL V. COPELAND