October 18, 2008 in City

Wheels

 

In the mornings Johnny Cooper gets into his GMC Acadia, hits the road and checks his e-mail.

Through a computer installed into the Acadia, a digital voice reads Cooper’s e-mail to him during his 20-minute commute to work. Cooper speaks his reply and his in-car computer sends off a response in an audio file.

“For me, it’s probably clearing out 30 to 40 e-mails on the way to work,” said Cooper, president of Azentek LLC, which makes the computer in the Acadia.

That product, called the Atlas CPC, is propelling growth for the two-year-old firm.

Azentek’s system is similar to Ford’s Sync system, particularly in offering hands-free use of a cell phone.

But it also offers access to e-mail and the Internet, and has a 160-gigabyte hard drive and other gadgets that make it more like a computer in your car.

The device costs $2,799 and requires a subscription of wireless service through an air card (about $50 a month).

Cooper said the company has built safety precautions in the system. For instance, access to the e-mail is hands-free and Internet access is cut off while the vehicle is moving.

Cooper said the idea came to him when he owned a few Chevrolet dealerships in Michigan and Indiana. He saw a phone number that a driver had scrawled onto the dashboard of a vehicle in his dealership’s service department.

Cooper recalls thinking, “That guy really needed that number. I got to thinking: How do I bring this technology to the car?”

With Azentek’s in-vehicle computer, a driver could use a prompt on the touch screen to start a voice recorder and take down the number.

Azentek expects to start shipping its in-car computer to aftermarket customers in December.

Cooper said his customers are usually people who drive a lot for their jobs.

Next year, Cooper said, it will be factory installed on a 2010 model-year luxury vehicle. But he can’t yet say which one.

Azentek already sells a rearview mirror that, selling at $799, has a navigation system and screen, as well as a Bluetooth connection with a microphone and a speaker for hands-free cell phone use.

Detroit Free Press

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