Oracle, Wingcast team on wireless auto services

Oracle Corp. has partnered with a wireless joint venture company backed by Ford Motor Co. and Qualcomm Inc. to develop and bring to market wireless computer services for vehicles, the company announced Thursday.

Oracle said it teamed with the Wingcast Inc. joint venture to form a development center in San Diego, California, for designing telematics systems. Telematics integrates computing and wireless telecommunications technology with motor vehicles. New service offerings for mobile commerce, entertainment and communications will use the wireless version of Oracle's 9i Application Server and its 9i database, the companies said.

"Virtually every application that Oracle makes will be voice-enabled and accessible in your vehicle," Larry Ellison, Oracle's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a teleconference discussing the deal.

The first services, expected in 2002, will be related to safety and traffic information. For example, Wingcast's service will track a vehicle's location and speed using an IP address, and then use that information to warn drivers about traffic congestion in the area. The service will also be able to suggest alternative routes where traffic may be lighter, officials said. Drivers could also use the system to request roadside assistance.

Asked about privacy issues surrounding this type of tracking system, Ellison said appropriate guidelines for such services will evolve over time.

"We live in a democracy, and the privacy rules will be established by the government and we will adhere to those rules," he said. "Safety will be improved, time will be saved and privacy can be ensured, as long as that is what our society wants."

Other services eventually will include wireless access to applications like e-mail, CRM (customer relationship management) and SFA (sales force automation). Such capabilities could be useful to workers who travel a lot, allowing a salesperson, for example, to track down a lead or access customer information while on the road, Ellison said.

The in-car computers would likely be voice-enabled, allowing a driver to access and compose emails using voice commands, and have their mail read back to them by the computer.

Wingcast plans to include the services with Ford and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. year 2003 model vehicles, which go on sale to consumers in mid-2002. The joint venture company said it hopes to eventually make the services available across Ford's entire line of cars.

Wingcast competes with OnStar, a subsidiary of General Motors Corp., which in April announced that it had passed the 1 million active subscriber mark.