General Motors will begin marketing a technology developed in Sonoma County that allows motorists to surf the Internet inside their cars while zipping down the highway.
The mobile Wi-Fi technology, which was first adopted by Chrysler last November, will now be offered as a dealer-installed accessory by Cadillac on its CTS sports sedan in April.
The deal is the latest victory for Autonet Mobile, which released its mobile Wi-Fi router in 2007.
"Yeah, it's awesome," said Autonet co-founder Doug Moeller, who designed the prototype for the technology at his kitchen table in Santa Rosa. "Something you built, people are actually adopting it."
Sales have been growing by about 25 percent every month, said Moeller, chief technology officer for the company. That growth should increase when General Motors begins selling Autonet's mobile Wi-Fi routers in its other car lines, he said.
Autonet's Wi-Fi router works by pulling in an Internet connection from cell phone antennas, which can provide download speeds up to about 800 Kbps, comparable to an entry-level DSL connection. It then relays the signal wirelessly, just like any Wi-Fi router, enabling anyone in the car with, say, a laptop, PlayStation Portable, or Apple iTouch to connect to the Internet.
In announcing the partnership with General Motors, Autonet also revealed the newest generation of its Wi-Fi router, which is significantly smaller than the two previous models.
It costs the same as previous models, with a suggested retail price of $499 and two data plans ranging from $30 to $60 a month.
The latest generation is equipped with a host of new features -- all intended to let the company connect you and your car deeper into the Internet.
The new version is designed to be portable, slipping in and out of a custom in-car dock so it can be used in any of the family cars. It also has a memory card slot, two USB connections and an Ethernet plugin.
These new features hint at the future of the Autonet technology. It will enable the company to introduce new features, like GPS and location-based services, synching movies and music from a home computer to your car, and even remote diagnostics by a car mechanic.
The CompactFlash memory slot will let people determine just how much hard-drive space they need in their cars -- in essence how many movies and songs they want stored in their car.
The new design will also make it a lot easier to connect your car stereo directly to Internet radio sites such as Pandora.com or Last.fm.
"It's a platform that can support those things," Moeller said. "This thing will adapt to whatever comes next."
The company plans to unveil several new services in mid April at the New York International Auto Show.
Autonet's mobile Wi-Fi technology is the latest sign that the Internet is embedding itself deeper into our lives, said Stan Schatt, a broadband and wireless networks analyst with ABI Research in Southern California.
People will soon be able to sit in their cars and use voice-activated commands to have the car read e-mail messages aloud, and even dictate messages, Schatt predicted.
"It simply is an extension of what we've seen already," he said.
In particular, the machines we own will begin talking to other machines. A car connected to the Internet could report to a mechanic service any issues it is experiencing.