By Jim Kerr; photo by Chris Chase

Few drivers realize the extent of the computer power in their vehicles. All the modules and computers combined provide far more processing power than the latest laptop or desktop home computers. Unfortunately, the programming in a vehicle computer is dedicated. It serves only one purpose and currently we can’t add new programs that perform other functions. That’s rapidly changing however, with the introduction of new vehicle communication interfaces that allow us to add functions or personalize data. Chrysler has integrated such a system in their vehicles. It is called MyGiG.

The first MyGiG-equipped vehicles were the 2007 Chrysler Sebring, Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Nitro. Now it is available on all 2008 Chrysler products. The concept of MyGiG is to consolidate all the various modules and computers that are used for vehicle communications and entertainment into one compact box that can perform a variety of functions. There are two versions of MyGiG available and both appear similar with the exception of control buttons. The first MyGiG unit contains a GPS Navigation system and is about a $2000 option, while the latest choice retains all the functionality of the original unit but without the Navigation feature for less than half the price.

One of the features of MyGiG is its 30GB (Gigabyte) hard drive (already updated from the 20GB drives in the initial units). Just like a personal computer, you can store data on the hard drive. For systems with Navigation, about 10GB is reserved for navigation map data. There is another 18GB of memory set up to store music (about 1600 songs). You can rip music from a CD and keep it on the hard drive in your car so you don’t have to change discs while driving or you can play music from a USB memory card with MyGiG, by plugging it into the USB connection port on the front of the unit. Another alternative is to plug in your MP3 player into the input jack for access to your portable music files.

Voice control is an integral part of the MyGiG system. Majeed Kadi of Chrysler Engineering explained how MyGiG has been designed as a world unit, with programming for 12 languages. North American systems will be conversant in English, French and Spanish. I say conversant, because this system uses the latest voice recognition software that has the ability to understand whole words and phrases – over 100,000 words! There is no need to learn special commands. Ask for the name of a song and if it is loaded in the system, it will play it. Kadi tells us that by 2009, MyGiG will also be able to control remotely connected MP3 players with voice commands as well.

Navigation equipped MyGiG units will also use voice commands to set destinations and find points of interest. (There are 11 different ways of entering a destination!) The Nav system has its own internal Gyroscopic sensor as well as using GPS sensor and vehicle speed input to determine vehicle location. Because the Nav database is stored in the hard drive, it can calculate a route within five seconds and correct with new directions after a wrong turn in less than one second. No need to get lost now!

There is much more to MyGiG. Sirius satellite radio is built in, as is a world radio receiver that can be programmed for different band use around the globe. There are actually two receivers – one for audio and a second for receiving data services such as highway traffic data where available. In the U.S., Sirius Satellite Television is available, but Chrysler Canada is still waiting for government approval so don’t hold your breath.

Auto manufacturers have formed a group that has set voluntary standards for access to controls and features of on-board entertainment and Nav systems, so some controls or touch-screen buttons don’t work while driving but may be controlled by voice. The same goes for watching a DVD on the screen. It’s okay in Park but not while driving. However, MyGiG does enable a passenger to watch the DVD on a remote rear seat screen while other passengers listen to audio. Plug in a portable DVD player to the input jacks and you can also have MyGiG display two separate in-car screens. Talk about keeping the family happy!

There’s more yet: Gracenote, a music database, is loaded on the hard drive so you have information about music played on the system. The Gracenote database can be updated as new music is written. U-Connect allows hands-free operation of your BlueTooth equipped cell phone, a Memo recorder can keep that shopping list readily available, and the screen is also a back-up camera display.

Finally, you can personalize the MyGiG display screen with your own pictures. Now you can have a family picture on your dash or a photo of your favourite place. MyGiG is all about integration and personalization. Programmable personal computers are coming to the automobile.

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