Ford Motor Company has developed a sophisticated in-vehicle electronics system that takes “smart” electronics a giant step closer to reality — demonstrating a specially equipped Lincoln LS that can recognize a driver’s lifestyle preferences even before the vehicle is started.

Using a personalized and secure key fob called iButton from Dallas Semiconductor, roughly the diameter of a dime, and advanced software technology from Sun Microsystems and Sensoria, allows the LS to program a driver’s preferred stations, memorize electronic phone books, adjust the temperature and seat and instantly display a day’s errands. The vehicle made its worldwide debut at Convergence 2000 today in Detroit.

“Our car offers a very flexible interface that can be personalized to instantly link your lifestyle preferences in a multiplicity of contexts, such as home, work and play,” said Bill Powers, Ford Motor Company Vice President, Research. “The car really is a living, breathing portal for a variety of services that can add comfort, convenience, safety and security to every minute you spend in your car.”

The equipment Ford Motor Company is showcasing on the Lincoln LS will dovetail into much of what Wingcast, the telematics provider created by Ford Motor Company and QUALCOMM Incorporated, is doing.

To transform the Lincoln LS into a personal car, where technology works for the driver, rather than the driver working for the technology, Ford Motor Company teamed up with Sun Microsystems, iButton (Dallas Semiconductor) and Sensoria.

Sun Microsystems is providing its Java and Jini technology, software that enables electronic devices in the vehicle to recognize one another and understand their function; Sensoria allows all of the systems in the car to communicate, while the iButton key fob, enables the driver to remain connected everywhere he or she roams.

With the Java technology powered iButton, a driver now will be instantly recognized by his or her vehicle by simply touching a marked location on the console. On the iButton are “markers” that tell the vehicle the driver’s preferences for music, temperature settings, seat position and even the type of shift pattern in a transmission he or she may enjoy.

“The combination of proximity networking and the Jini technology’s ability to dynamically locate and use services, promises to take the car from a means of transportation to a portable network portal,” said Jim Waldo, distinguished engineer, Sun Microsystems. “We are excited to be working with Ford using this combination of breakthrough technologies.” Ford Motor Company’s system shines in its ability to tie key enabling technologies from the wireless, consumer electronics, entertainment and automotive sectors into one seamless system, without compromising safety. In other words, palm held devices, cellular telephones and computers go from being good resources to devices that are integrated across a person’s lifestyle, electronically stitched together and able to travel with the driver everywhere.

Today, for example, when a person leaves his or her home, favorite music is left behind. In the near future, the music will travel with the person because the vehicle will have the ability to recognize the music each person enjoys and play it in the vehicle. The same will apply to dining, shopping and entertainment.

To retrieve voice mail from a cellular phone, a consumer today has to go through four separate functions — dialing, entering a pass code, scanning the list of messages and then determining who to call. The system in the Lincoln LS knows what telephone numbers are most important to the driver, quickly highlighting them on the center console screen until the driver requests the message be retrieved with a single voice command.

Wireless short-range technology will recognize the driver’s palm held information, whether in a briefcase or purse. With that information, the vehicle will be able to remind the driver of a conference call, then dial the number if requested. This communications link is made possible through the use of special software that enables devices, such as a Palm, to “talk” to a cellular phone and vice versa.

“The vehicle is unique in its ability to integrate the latest technologies into a seamless fabric of e-connections that consumers may ‘ride on,’ across a multitude of daily transitions from home, to work, to play, and on the road,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, project leader, Infotronics Technologies, Ford Research Laboratory. “These features are integrated in such as way that driver safety isn’t compromised because they can be accessed hands-free.”

Ford Motor Company’s customer service division, QualityCare, is eyeing the technology as a way to enhance customer service, such as automatically determining a vehicle fault or required service and then helping the consumer make an appointment. For example, a reminder note would appear on the center screen when it was time for an oil change, giving the driver the option to immediately schedule an appointment with just the touch of the screen.