Microsoft to debut hands-free Fiat partnership

Microsoft and automaker Fiat will introduce cars with a system that directly integrates mobile phones and other devices.

Microsoft and Fiat Auto will show off cars later this month that give drivers a new hands-free option for using their cell phones, according to the companies.

At a Feb. 28 event at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland, Italian automaker Fiat plans to show off three new cars outfitted with a Windows-based system that uses Bluetooth technology to enable users to control mobile phones and other devices from the dashboard and steering wheel. The system, called Blue&Me, is based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile for Automotive software, according to Jim Bak, a spokesman for Microsoft.

Microsoft and Fiat first announced their partnership to provide the Blue&Me system in June 2004.

Blue&Me enables motorists to use a "push-to-talk" button on the steering wheel to control Bluetooth mobile phones with voice commands, Bak said. The phone conversations are transmitted through the car's stereo system, he said. Blue&Me also includes GPS (global positioning system) navigation and will talk users through driving directions turn by turn.

Additionally, a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port on the dashboard allows a user to connect a media player or storage device for playing music through the car's stereo system. Users can control the stereo with voice commands through the same steering-wheel button that controls their mobile phones, Bak said.

Blue&Me also gives drivers the ability to contact Fiat for information about car trouble, Bak said. For instance, if a "check engine" light is illuminated, a driver can use a steering-wheel control to access a Web service from Fiat called VConnect that lets users communicate with the company to find out what is causing the problem. Fiat can send a text message back to a motorist through a screen on the instrument panel of the car that will let them know what's wrong with the automobile and whether it needs immediate attention, he said.

Blue&Me will support eight different languages, including U.K. English, Italian, Spanish, French and German, and more than 140 mobile handsets at launch. The software can be updated in the future to support new handset technologies as they evolve so the system can still be used with new phones, Bak said.

The first cars with the system that the companies will demonstrate in Geneva will be the Alfa Romeo 159, the Fiat Grande Punto and the Alfa Romeo Brera, according to Bak. Fiat plans to roll out the system in Europe on cars across all of its brands, including Fiat and Alfa Romeo, through the rest of the year, he added.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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