CeBIT: Mercedez-Benz unveils the MPV office

Ah, the good life. You slip into the back seat of your Mercedes-Benz. Inform James of your next destination. And then proceed to send e-mail, write reports, or play a quick game of digital cards with an online partner.

That dream scenario for a busy executive is closer to reality than you may think and can be seen at CeBIT, in Hannover this week.

IBM Corp. (NYSE:IBM) is teaming up with DaimlerChrysler (Mercedes' parent company) to create a mobile office, which will include a desk, an IBM ThinkPad with ViaVoice speech recognition software, and a mobile Internet link. However, the console sits in the backseat of the car, meaning people can't drive and surf simultaneously.

Right now, only the Mercedes-Benz V-Class Multipurpose Vehicle will have the Business Console feature, which costs about $12,000 to install. The car will be available in Europe shortly and is on display at CeBIT this week. The V-Class is ideally suited to mobile office conversion, as the standard model ships with a table, which can easily be used as a desk. The Business Console also has the ability to track the condition of the vehicle,navigate and entertain passengers with Internet-based games.

"In the future, we believe that all vehicles should have such a platform as a standard integrated component, offered at a reasonable price," Thomas Kratz, of DaimlerChrysler's van division, said in a statement.

IBM said it's working with some U.S. auto makers on other projects that combine computing and automobile technology. "It's very much an extension of our strategy," said Ed Holden, director of IBM's global automotive marketing. "There are a lot of people on the road, and they'd like to be able to keep working while they're in their vehicle."

Holden said not all upcoming projects will be as upscale as the Mercedes one. IBM is the latest in a string of technology heavyweights to move into the automobile space.

Microsoft Corp. recently introduced a Windows CE-based car computer that comes installed in the radio slot of an automobile. It offers basic features such as voice-activated messaging and navigation and is designed to synchronize with handheld devices. Other companies such as OnStar are selling devices containing mapping and navigation features that can be moved from car to car.

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