Hyundai Blue Link: Next Step, The Cloud

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Hyundai takes its first steps into the buzzy field of in-car telematics with Blue Link, which bows later this year in the 2012 Sonata sedan and the new 2012 Veloster sport coupe.

Blue Link uses the Web, human operators, and data hardware inside the car to fuse mapping and mobile services and enable them via voice commands. It's all controlled either by buttons on the rearview mirror, or by controls on the vehicle's steering wheel, or an LCD touchscreen for cars with navigation.

During last week's New York Auto Show, we went for a ride up the West Side Highway in a Sonata sedan equipped with a prototype Blue Link system, with a co-driving laptop on hand to show off the system's Web portal and its user-customizable features.

In practice, the Hyundai system feels more like GM's OnStar service than it does the newest systems like Ford's popular SYNC or Toyota's upcoming Entouch, both of which interact with the driver's cell phone for data signals and services. With Blue Link, you'll want to connect your handset for audio streaming and phone calls--but it's not necessary to access some of the other services, like on-the-fly restaurant reservations or nearby weather reports.

In fact, Blue Link is more like a stepping stone into cloud-based information services, in that it uses people to substitute in when voice commands just aren't precise enough. For example, on the Sonata, an onboard hard drive stores maps for the navigation system when it's specified; Blue Link adds on the ability to search for destinations that have been added, updated, or newly identified by Microsoft's Bing search engine since the last car-based GPS update was performed.

Those new bits of information can be pulled down from the Web via voice and a rearview mirror-mounted button. Press the button, speak a natural command ("I'd like to go to Starbucks") and Blue Link translates it into a Web search. If the Bing-driven algorithm can't find a result, it's kicked over to a human concierge, in a call center in Dallas or in Boston; those operators find the correct result on the Web through a Blue Link management tool, and send it back to the car for translation into audible menus that prompt the driver to accept the information, or to hear another choice.

The system will allow drivers to cycle through five total choices, for everything from destinations to gas prices to restaurants recommended by the community of Bing users on the search engine's Web pages. However, the new selections are stored in the car--but they don't update the car's database.

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