March 01, 2001, 11:39 AM — TECHNOLOGY FROM COMPANIES such as OnStar, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors, is rapidly changing automobiles into mobile computing platforms. InfoWorld Senior Writer Dan Neel caught up with OnStar President Chet Huber at the 2001 International Consumer Electronics Show, where Huber explained how OnStar technology is changing the way we drive and service GM automobiles.
InfoWorld: Since June 1995, when you started as the president of OnStar, the IT world has seen Intel's 486 chip evolve to the Pentium 4, and cell phones rapidly shrink in size. With OnStar still in the early phases of consumer adoption, do you think the company could have moved faster in developing its technology?
Huber: You couldn't have built a working prototype of OnStar in 1995. The technology wasn't user-friendly or robust enough; it wasn't ubiquitously available the way it's getting now. You can't focus on just one geography because vehicles are going to go everywhere. But our focus has not been to stay on the cutting edge of technology; it's been on how we apply these technologies to provide real value to customers.
InfoWorld: What advances have helped most to improve OnStar technology?
Huber: We've taken advantage of tremendous advances in voice recognition technology. There's a kind of acoustic modeling that we've been able to do in these latest versions. Tremendous advances have spurred how you apply geo-coded data through computer-telephony integration techniques. Some of these, unfortunately, we've had to invent ourselves because the shrink-wrapped products wouldn't have worked exactly like you would have hoped.
InfoWorld: What can OnStar customers look forward to?
Huber: First is hands-free, voice-activated personal calling, which we call OnStar Personal Calling. With one button press, the radio will automatically mute, and you'll be able to either say a nametag or say the digits that you want to dial into an embedded microphone. You'll have a speakerphone conversation, essentially, with the person on the other end. The voice will come through the audio entertainment system in whatever vehicle you're driving. It's a prepaid platform, so you can buy 50 minutes, 100 minutes, 1,000 minutes. We download them into a bank in the car and you carry those minutes around with you. No roaming, no long-distance charges. We think that'll be a great service and is perfectly positioned to answer this whole notion of driver distraction.