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In-Vehicle Technology: Your Car's Computer

So why is GM CEO Rick Wagoner making his first-ever presentation at CES? In a word: Sync. Ford's collaboration with Microsoft to bring limited computing capabilities to the automobile has created quite a buzz.

And while it's hard to imagine people lining up to buy a Ford just to get their hands on Microsoft technology, it does give an idea which direction the auto industry is headed.

Case in point: The entire North Hall of the Convention Center this year is devoted to in-vehicle
technologies. And while a large number of those technologies have to do with entertainment and GPS, including audio, video and satellite technologies, an evolving crop of newcomers is focusing on computing, also known as telematics.

Microsoft's been talkin

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g about telematics for some time now, and Sync is its first serious foray into the arena. But newer companies, like Azentek, are making full-fledged multimedia PC systems specifically designed for cars. These aren't lightweight computers, either.

In fact, the in-dash computing system in the Intel WiMAX car was provided by Azentek, and not only did it enable audio and video streaming to and from the vehicle, the system also included a feature that monitored all of the car's components.

Low on oil? The system knows. Running low on gas? The system not only knows, but tells you where to find it. If your brakes are wearing out, it'll let you know that too, so you don't run them down to the rotors. And if you need to call the mechanic, Skype is a voice-activated number away.

Telematics is just the kind of technology WiMAX will make more useful. The ability to be on the Internet, make VoIP phone calls, stream video and compose an email with voice-activation may seem like overkill in today's hyper-productive society. But if you can knock some of those things out while you're sitting in traffic or if you're car-pool buddies can do it at 65 miles per hour, it could actually be a case where technology does, indeed, make life better.

Editor's note: As part of our extensive coverage of CES, CNBC.com's Brian Clark and Ted Kemp will be at the event and contributing to this special edition of Tech Check.