The car's the star, with a built-in office

CeBIT: Car makers are putting an end to back-seat driving by turning your automobile into a mobile office and entertainment centre. It will cost you, though
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Mobility is a key theme at this year's CeBIT, with many Wi-Fi devices and smartphones on display. Some companies are going further, though, by demonstrating how a car can be transformed into a high-tech palace.

These firms are showing that automobiles can be adapted to include high-resolution screens, powerful processors, and even fax machines and DVD players. Such telematic innovation, though, comes at a price.

At its stand at the world's largest ICT show, Mercedes AMG is demonstrating how S and E-class Mercedes models can incorporate a range of technology, turning them into mobile offices or places of entertainment. Mercedes' mobile office system is based around a multifunction communication unit (MFCU) which is built into the armrest in the back seat of the car.

The MFCU can fax, print, scan or photocopy documents, and also contains a GSM mobile phone and narrowband modem.

The system on display is based on an Intel Mobile Pentium III chip running at 700MHz, with a 10GB hard drive and 512MB of RAM. It also has a single large flat screen hidden inside the front passenger seat.

At the press of a button, this screen rises out of the seat to cover back of the headrest, and can be hidden back within the seat when not in use. A keyboard is also included, and a Mercedes spokesman explained that it is possible to order customised versions with a second screen built into the back of the driver's seat, or an entertainment-oriented package.

This entertainment package consists of two 6.5-inch screens in the back seat, which can display television, teletext and -- in some systems -- DVDs. The car on display at CeBIT also contained a DVD-ROM drive built into the boot, which could hold six disks at once.

If this sounds like your kind of system, then the good news is that it should be available in the UK "within two or three months," according to a Mercedes spokesman. It's already on sale in Germany.

Price, though, could be an issue -- the mobile office system on display costs around 19,000 euros (around £13,000) to install, while the entertainment system retails at some 3,300 euros (around £2,250).

Across the hall, though, a second car has been fitted out with an even more impressive array of technology. German-based Cyclops has filled part of its stand with a BMW 7 Series that has been souped up to boast both a mobile office and an in-car entertainment system.

The back seat includes two 15-inch TFT screens, and the system -- called the Cyclops InCarPC -- includes a combination CD writer and DVD drive and a wide range of connectivity options, including GPRS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HSCSD and USB.

The system also includes a video camera, and an entertainment system that plays MP3s and DAB radio broadcasts, and can even be connected to a Sony PlayStation2 gaming console.

An additional colour screen in the front means the system can also be controlled by the driver.

A basic Cyclops system starts at around 2,000 euros (around £1,365), but the complete package definitely falls into the luxury car bracket. According to Cyclops, the fully featured BMW 7 Series on display at CeBIT would cost around 200,000 euros (roughly £136,500).

At this price point, though, regional availability isn't really an issue. "If you have enough money, you can buy this pretty much anywhere in the world," a Cyclops representative explained.

For those with slightly more modest ambitions, other CeBIT exhibitors were also worth a visit. Motorola, for example, was demonstrating how it has integrated a Bluetooth mobile phone into an Audi A8. This means a call can be routed through the in-car speakers if desired, with the volume controlled from the steering wheel.

Motorola's product also allows voice dialling and voice navigation, where the driver simply dictates which road in which city they wish to get to, and the satellite navigation system finds the best route and displays on a high-resolution screen.

Other companies that were showing off telematic solutions at CeBIT included Navman, which launched a GPS navigation product called iCN630 that supports street-level mapping, and is expected to cost around 1499 euros (around £1,000).

For full coverage of CeBIT 2003 -- the biggest tech show in the world -- see the CeBIT News Section.

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