Ford have announced that their "Ford Sync" , dashboard system will cost $US395 as an option extra initially on late 2007 US models such as the Focus. But perhaps open source hardware can provide an alternative for a larger range of vehicles and expanded applications, paritularaly for developing nations.
The Ford Sync uses Microsoft software and is intended as a low cost version of the dashboard screens for audio, video, SMS text messages, telephone and computer access (flash overview available). The system keeps costs down by interfacing via Bluetooth or USB to external music players and phones. Voice recognition or steering wheel buttons are proposed.
The Projects such as OpenMoko provide standard open source hardware platforms for developers of in-car computers. The Reva NGX show-car model has an Indian made Linux touch screen computer in the dashboard. This goes beyond what is proposed for Ford Sync, by providing the car speedometer, as well as communications and entertainment. An alternative would be a removable or portable computer, connected to the car's audio system, but with no inbuilt screen.
Dashboard screens have previously been associated with upmarket models of vehicles. As these become more common it opens up the possibility of new vehicle applications. These could be used to provide facilities usually requiring expensive roadside infrastructure and be used to reduce traffic congestion and fuel use, particularly in developing nations. Recently I was asked for some ideas for research on vehicles and IT and these may be applicable.