Americans have long been fascinated with the idea of human-car interaction. Such relationships are at the heart of many film and TV productions, from the 1968 movie "The Love Bug" to the 1980s TV series "Knight Rider." While the close bonds felt between Dean Jones and his car Herbie, and David Hasselhoff and his car KITT, remain quite fictional, modern technology has made the relationship between the automobile and its driver increasingly interactive. Today, many cars are equipped to sync, or communicate wirelessly, with a smartphone, allowing the driver to make phone calls, send text messages, play music, and navigate to a destination using voice commands.
These hands-free tasks are possible thanks to advancements in vehicle telematics, or the integration of communication and information technologies for use in automobiles. Typically, vehicle telematics systems incorporate cell phone and Global Positioning System (GPS) units with an on-board computer to perform a wide variety of tasks. In 1996, OnStar became the first company to install such technology in cars. The service offered hands-free calling and turn-by-turn direction assistance, as well as access to a call center staff that could unlock the car if a customer was locked out and alerted the police if the car was stolen or its airbags were deployed. OnStar now comes standard on many cars, but it relies on a built-in cell phone system separate from the driver's handheld unit.
In 2002, BMW became the first company to offer cars that could connect to personal cell phones using Bluetooth wireless technology. Bluetooth -- an industry standard for wireless communication between two or more devices -- soon became a common feature on other vehicles. Chrysler became the first North American car company to offer Bluetooth connectivity after it introduced the system on its 2004 Pacifica line. Initially, this option mainly supported hands-free calling, but as the technology improved, so did the functionality. Today's Bluetooth-enabled cars are capable of a wide variety of functions, from streaming online music to performing vehicle diagnostics.
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