USTelematics Pins Its Hopes On Talking E-Mail - InformationWeek

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7/11/2007
05:45 PM
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USTelematics Pins Its Hopes On Talking E-Mail

The company's Voice Interactive Voice Enhanced E-mail product uses an animated avatar to alert users to text-based messages, which can be helpful if you're driving.

USTelematics CEO Howard Leventhal says he was among the 20% of Americans who writes and reads e-mail or text messages while driving when he almost hit another car, head-on, with his 6-year-old daughter in the car.

"Howard was driving about 45 mph while texting and he looked up to see a car 100 feet ahead of him, fully stopped," said Charlene Montalbano, product manager of USTelematics. "He slammed on the brakes and stopped just inches shy of impact. Later that night, after the adrenalin wore off, the idea for Vivee popped into his head."

Vivee -- or Voice Interactive Voice Enhanced E-mail -- alerts users when a text message or e-mail has arrived and allows them to listen to their messages instead of reading them. The service connects laptops, USTelematics multimedia car computers, smartphones, and other devices with Windows operating systems to the Internet through Verizon Wireless' high-speed networks.

In addition to preventing collisions, the device could also benefit blind and visually impaired people and level the playing field for business owners and employees with disabilities, Montalbano pointed out.

USTelematics said it plans to release software for the Apple iPhone by the end of the summer.

Insurance surveys have found that one in five drivers text while driving, and younger drivers are even worse. Nationwide Insurance reported that one of every three people between ages 18 and 34 text while driving. The figures are expected to increase as mobile technologies grow, while national reports already blame 80% of crashes on distracted driving and have prompted several states to ban or restrict cell phone use behind the wheel.

USTelematics eyes those statistics and predicts that its new technology will change the way Americans communicate, not to mention how they drive.

"Safety should be our primary concern when driving," Montalbano explained in a prepared statement. "Years ago, no one would have ever thought to do something as dangerous as read or type a business letter while driving. Nowadays, it's standard operating procedure for millions of Americans. We've all become so conditioned to being accessible at all times, we look back and wonder how we ever managed without cell phones. Once PDAs hit the scene, they became indispensable."

She said someday people will feel the same about Vivee, which is delivered via an avatar.

"Vivee will not only keep your focus safely on the road, ultimately, 'she' may help you avoid a ticket," Montalbano said.

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