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Mobile Office Applications at 2001 SEMA

Last week the annual gathering of extravagant and unusual vehicles descended on the Las Vegas Convention Center under the auspices of SEMA (Special Equipment Marketing Association) and AAPEX (Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo). Hundreds of tripped-out vehicles of every type, style and purpose representing most of the major automotive manufactures from around the globe were on display. After enjoying the visual feast for a couple of hours, I focused my attention on the products and services most useful to Dashboarders conducting business on a roll.

Lat year, the 2000 SEMA event had several examples of mobile office applications, and I hoped to find a large new crop at this year's show. While I discovered amazing creations enabling new heights for tailgate parties, entertainment, and recreational opportunities for couples and families on a roll, I quickly discovered that the automotive customization community has moved away from products of interest to working Dashboarders.

Fortunately, all is not lost. There were three products that deserve some tire kicking in the next couple of weeks. I also got a look at a prototype phased-array satellite transceiver, and I have news about current broadband satellite options for connecting to the Internet while in motion.

The Canadian company JottoDesk has created a pedestal-type platform that snugly holds a laptop within easy reach of either the passenger or the driver of a vehicle. Pricing is unclear, but this is definitely a product we want to test on the road.

Alice Reinke's AR Solutions Management, Inc. is marketing a hands-free cellular device she calls "Sitback Sound." I tested this device in the noisy exhibit hall at the convention center and found it very compelling. Alice expects to be ready to ship the Sitback Sound (prices at US$300) by the end of November. Generally, I don't like hands-free devices because they encourage users to speak LOUDER than is necessary. What is interesting about the Sitback device is that the speakers are incorporated into a fabric sleeve that attaches to the headrest of a vehicle seat, and the microphone is on a boom that easily picks up voice communication without yelling. The "black box" controller accepts an external antenna plug, and the entire product can be moved from one car to another very easily. Further road tests will be required before we give the "thumbs-up," but this product is certainly something you may wish to consider.

In March 2000 we began a series of trials using Wire-Free's "Cellected" hands-free device, (see paragraph six of Road Wirer #18). Generally, we found the device to be unsatisfactory because of signal stray and quality of sound problems we associated with plugging the device into the cigarette lighter. Now, the German company KUDA is marketing a similar device that uses the vehicle's stereo as the hands-free interface. Unlike the Cellected product, this device is hard-wired and also includes an installed platform called a "Phonebase" that ensures that the installation looks custom to the vehicle. Pricing is vague, but the unit will probably run around $US300.

DaimlerChrysler AG is working on another hands-free device that also employs the vehicle's existing radio system (similar to both Cellected and KUDA). What is interesting about DaimlerChrysler's version is the use of a BlueTooth transceiver mounted under the dash. The user's hand-held phone will automatically connect (via Bluetooth) to the on-board communication system as soon as the user settles into the driver's seat.

For several years, Dashboarders have been anticipating Internet connectivity on-the-road, anywhere in North America to be delivered by satellite access. In my next column on November 12th, I will examine the progress being made to meet this dream.

Mark Sedenquist
Las Vegas, Nevada
November 5, 2001