After 15 years of offering comprehensive safety coverage to General Motors vehicle owners, OnStar will be getting a well-deserved boost in functionality to better take on Ford's Sync and other upstart systems. New infotainment systems are one of the hottest trends in the automotive marketplace, and GM certainly can't afford to be behind the curve. Because of this, OnStar will be relaunching its brand image, citing the phrase "responsible connectivity" as the motto for everything moving forward. This means that OnStar won't just be about safety anymore, though its core values will continue to be improved.

Two of the main infotainment technologies being tested right now are audio Facebook integration and voice text messaging. OnStar recently released a brief bit of information about these two functions, but we were able to attend a presentation to see these new social functions firsthand.

OnStar's Facebook integration will allow subscribers to post audio status updates directly from the car. These messages will appear as audio updates on the Facebook news feed, and drivers will also have the ability to have their personal news feed read back to them. Even though this technology is still undergoing beta testing, the whole process works relatively seamlessly, though the read-back audio could still benefit from some smoothing-out.

Voice text messaging piggybacks on this same audio technology. Using a Bluetooth-paired phone, drivers can have text messages read to them via the car's audio system. From there, the driver can press a button on the steering wheel to verbally select one of OnStar's four pre-set replies – things like, "I received your text message, but am currently driving," or, "Please call me."

All of this being tested in correlation with OnStar's ninth-generation hardware, which improves voice recognition, adds a Bluetooth phonebook, help 'wizard,' improved navigation and uses advanced notification services for traffic and weather alerts. This is just the start to what OnStar is working on, though. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into the future technologies OnStar is working to bring to GM vehicles.

See below for the official press release.

OnStar Relaunches Its Brand with Focus on "Responsible Connectivity"

• New Telematics Computing platform including social media/voice texting capability and potential for open development
• Announces new sub-brand for smart phone application
• New 9th Generation Hardware with improved navigation and user features
• New Services to Further Its Safety Leadership
• All New Marketing Campaign and Business Strategy

(New York) Sept. 15, 2010 – In simultaneous events across the nation, OnStar's new President Chris Preuss announced new services, capabilities and an advertising campaign as part of a top-to-bottom realignment of the company's long-term strategy built around "responsible connectivity."

"Building on the rock-solid foundation of OnStar's safety and security automotive platform, we were given a clear directive to develop OnStar as one of the chief pillars in defining GM's business going forward," said new OnStar President, Chris Preuss. "With the extremely high awareness and respect for the OnStar brand, we've created a long-term vision that includes new in-vehicle hardware, an all-new IT infrastructure and a host of new partnerships and services that provide the basis for growth. This growth will be consistent with our industry-leading and unmatched focus on safety and security."

OnStar MyLink

OnStar announced the MyLink sub-brand for its' mobile apps. Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC mobile apps powered by OnStar will allow owners to remotely activate all functions available on a traditional key fob- remote start, horns and light and door unlocks- securely from their smartphones.

Redesigned IT Infrastructure

OnStar revealed its Advanced Telematics Operations Management System (ATOMS) computing platform, one of the most powerful and comprehensive machine-to-machine telematics systems in the world. Two new elements for customers include advanced geo-boxing and voice texting engines, which will allow a number of new and yet-to-be announced services, including Audio Facebook Updates and a flexible platform for handling texts in-vehicle. Both will be rigorously tested to ensure that the features are consistent with GM's safe driver principles and are effective in reducing distracted driving issues.

OnStar Developers Challenge

As part of its focus on reconciling the hurdle of keeping consumers connected in their cars while minimizing driver distractions, OnStar announced a partnership with leading universities known for their technology leadership. The OnStar Developers Challenge invites students at these schools to architect the next voice-based technology that will keep drivers safely connected when they are on the road. The audio-focused Application Programming Interface (API) competition for select universities will allow Engineering, Interaction Design and Human Computer Interaction students the opportunity to submit original and compelling voice-enabled applications. The OnStar Developers Challenge website,, launched on September 15, 2010.

9th Generation of Hardware

OnStar also unveiled its 9th generation of hardware that features a number of upgrades that improves the user experience with new natural voice recognition, Bluetooth phonebook, a new help wizard, improved navigation, the ability to work with geo-boxed notification services (advanced traffic management and severe weather alert services) and the ability to remotely reflash computer modules in the vehicle.

"In addition to building out the IT capability, the hardware also had to be improved to allow for these new services to be developed," Preuss said. "The geo-boxing capability is a key enabler to several new services around advanced traffic management, routing and navigation features that we will be announcing in the future. The remote reflash and the ability to improve our notifications to customers means the CRM capabilities and opportunities with OnStar will continue to lead the industry."

New Technology Testing

In New York, San Francisco, Miami and Austin, a mixed crowd of media, OnStar subscribers and technology insiders got a chance to take a peek at new technologies OnStar engineers are testing, all of which are designed to merge safety and connectivity:

• Audio Facebook Updates: In addition, OnStar showcased beta test results for in-car social media interaction. This service would allow OnStar subscribers to verbally update their Facebook status message through audio recordings and/or listen to their most recent news feed messages through the OnStar Virtual Advisor capability.

• Voice Texting: OnStar revealed beta tests for voice-based SMS (short message service). This feature would enable customers to have their text messages read to them using Bluetooth. The Bluetooth technology allows users to connect their mobile device to their vehicle and receive automated text messages. With one button press, on the steering wheel, users can reply back to a text by verbally selecting one of four pre-set replies.

Furthering Its Safety Leadership

As the company continues to enhance its core safety focus,

• In coordination with the GM Foundation, OnStar is providing grants of $500,000 to the University of Michigan Health System and $100,000 to the CDC Foundation for additional research related to the prediction of injury levels in severe crashes. These grants, along with three years of actual OnStar crash data will enable OnStar, the University of Michigan Health System and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be able to link crash data to actual physical injuries sustained in vehicle crashes. The revolutionary research, conducted over approximately 18 months, will look at 1,000 incidents and will ultimately allow OnStar to predict not only the severity of a crash, but assist emergency care providers by providing the probability of certain types of injuries sustained by crash victims.

• OnStar unveiled First Assist, an enhancement of existing its' emergency services. The First Assist service allows certified Emergency Advisors to obtain critical information and provide important instructions to subscribers involved in emergency situations ranging from the aftermath of a car crash to the birth of a child until first responders arrive. After determining the nature of the situation, Advisors can provide rapid guidance, which may result in potentially lifesaving actions. OnStar Advisors who will be providing this service are specially trained and certified by the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch™ (NAED) using the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) protocol. This service, available at no additional cost to active OnStar subscribers, will compliment the efforts of public safety professionals by allowing Advisors to act as a conduit for requesting services for on-scene rescue and support for its subscribers in need.

A New Marketing Campaign

Preuss also revealed a new marketing and engagement campaign that will stretch the definition and understanding of the brand, while engaging its customers as advocates. The campaign will focus on the awareness, simplicity and power of the blue button with the theme "Live On"– Safely Connecting you in ways you never thought possible." The campaign, created by OnStar's ad agency Campbell-Ewald, will include print, broadcast and online executions.

"We wanted our campaign to be bottom-up, built around engagement and social media with a strong element of advertising", said OnStar's Chief Marketing Officer, Sam Mancuso. "The campaigns of the past were almost exclusively based on traditional advertising and were highly focused on real life stories of our customers. While effective, the premise was more around "hope to goodness you don't need it" versus "I don't want to drive without it." Our new campaign will be built around our customers as advocates, but it will also be more optimistic and will feature the full breadth of features we have now and will be adding in the future. This is key to our new business strategy."

The campaign launches Monday, Sept. 20, 2010.

Preuss said the new business strategy will be built around the highly successful and profitable subscription model and leaves open the possibility that OnStar could expand beyond the automotive space into other areas where safety and security with a telematics enabler would be relevant.

"One aspect of our business that will never change is our live advisors who are just a simple button press away," said Preuss. "They are what set us apart, and they'll continue to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

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