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Gates' sights set on automobiles with his gizmos


Bill Gates paid a visit to Detroit's auto industry Friday, hoping to convince manufacturers and suppliers that the Microsoft Corp. software which runs 90 percent of the world's computers can help cars and trucks be more convenient, safer, easier to maintain and fun to drive.

More than 400 high-level executives heard Gates do an afternoon sales pitch at the Ford Convention and Expo Center in Dearborn. Afterward, Gates and Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Bill Ford strolled across the street, where the Microsoft chairman and chief software architect announced a $1-million gift to the Henry Ford for a new exhibit on the evolution of technology.

But before that, Gates sat down with the Free Press to talk tech and show off a new device Microsoft will offer to dealership service garages.

The device, which can be built into a baseball cap or worn as a visor, contains a tiny piece of translucent plastic that projects the equivalent of a 17-inch computer screen before the wearer's eyes.

Microsoft says mechanics can use the $3,995 device to look simultaneously -- and hands-free -- at, say, a car engine and the computerized image of a wiring diagram.

"This is a very cool thing," said Gates, who, despite a conservative dark-blue business suit and tie worn to fit in with the auto execs, seemed every bit the geek at heart as we talked about gizmos and gadgets.

Called the Nomad Expert Technician System and marketed by a Microsoft partner company called Microvision, the device uses the same technology found on Apache attack helicopters.

"This type of heads-up display is a great aid in giving you an informational overlay for complex procedures," Gates said. "It can even be miniaturized further so that you don't have to wear a contraption. The whole thing could fit on, say, a pair of glasses."

The system uses Microsoft software and a control box that clips on a waistband for navigation. Microsoft is currently piloting the program with a couple of car dealerships on the West Coast, he said.

In a few years, said Gates, the same technology could be used to give drivers information without taking their eyes off the road.

"If we look at a 5-year time frame," he said, "we can use the heads-up display in the car itself so that when you're driving and need a map, you are not looking down but it's imbedded right in the windshield, like it is on the Apache."

It also could be used with mobile phones, Gates said, as a sort of wearable computer that provides what he says is "glanceable information."

"The cost still needs to come down before this can be imminent, but if somebody's calling you, this could show you on the heads-up display who is calling," he said. "That would sure be better than going into your pocket and pulling out a phone."

Gates brought along 25 of his company's industry partners to demonstrate things like the heads-up display to showcase the corporation's involvement in the auto industry.

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