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SYSTEMS ON

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Nov 14, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

SYSTEMS ON

By JOHN GRAFMAN

I found myself actually cursing at the windshield.   I'm sure from outside the GMC Envoy, in which the OnStar system is installed, it looks like some maniac, psycho killer is being housed inside a semi-vacant SUV as all the jail cells are currently overflowing.   I can imagine it looks hysterical, at least to my fellow editor Mr. Gardner who has the good luck to be in the SUV with me at this golden moment.

All I want to do is activate one of the menu options via the voice commands.   Instead of going to the next menu, I'm trapped in voice recognition hell.   It just cycles through the same three options, over and over.   This is all too similar to automated telephone answering systems.   I'm not overjoyed at the moment.   I reread the instructions and retry the operation with no greater success.   I can't believe this, OnStar doesn't like my voice.   By the end of the session I don't think the system would want to either recognize my utterances or tone.

After connecting the next day to a real live operator, the problem is explained.   OnStar didn't have any personal issues with me; the system itself had a bad day.   Fortunately this was only a problem with the automated system that can direct users to information regarding traffic, weather, news and so on.  

Like many others, I'm more likely to believe the problem is operator error (even if I am the operator) rather than a system problem.   Now that I'm over that hump, I am impressed with what the OnStar system does do.   Besides (rather amazingly) recognizing my voice clearly, it's able to follow the commands and effortlessly do my bidding - including dialing the telephone (personal calling).   This is, by far, one of the least distracting systems to use.   The only trick is to remember what voice commands to dictate.   But if I can remember simple commands to give a dog, I think I can master this as well.

One of the well-thought out parts of the operation is preloading the programming on their web site.   What this means is it narrows down my choices at the convenience of my computer.   Punch in the code and select what is important and ditch the options that are less relevant.   For instance, I can lock in all the sports channels, or maybe I only care about F1 racing.   Once behind the wheel, I have already narrowed the voice options down to what is really important.  

As this system uses GPS technology, stolen vehicle recovery assistance is part of the package.   No, I didn't test this out, to the gratefulness of our publisher.

Of course, the famed feature of OnStar is still there.   If you need help right now (let's say with driving directions), just a push of the button is all it takes.   If the vehicle has an emergency (let's say an airbag deploys), the system automatically calls and a live person takes the appropriate response.   Maybe a having Big Brother looking over your shoulder isn't always a bad thing.

I start to get the hang of the whole system, and I realize I can mouth off to the automated system all I want. It simple doesn't care, and goes about its normal business getting me the information and help I need.   Now, that's what I call stress relief.   GM likes to call it OnStar.

Go to www.onstar.com for in depth information.

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