Cars which can contact garages with details of their faults and pay as you drive insurance are just months away following pioneering work by a Midland manufacturer.
RDM Group has just landed £4.75 million investment package to continue the design and development work of its Auto-txt product.
The system - a box which is fitted to a car - uses bluetooth technology to aid driver recognition as well as a host of other benefits.
The device "senses" the motorist's mobile phone or PDA, as well as the car key, and contacts a secure operating centre if either is absent.
RDM, which employs 35 people at the Bilton Industrial Estate in Coventry, is planning to take on 15 more design and development engineers early in the New Year.
It is also planning to move to new, larger premises in Coventry, to aid its research effort.
David Keene, managing director, said: "Auto-txt was born in 2001 and in the interim period we have spent a great deal of time and money in developing and finalising the system,
"The vehicle protection and tracking product is the only one of its type that authenticates the driver through their bluetooth mobile phone or PDA.
"Each customer is given the option to programme three devices to the car. If these don't match when the engine is switched on, an alarm will be raised and the owner contacted immediately.
"Equally important is that our secure operating centre is also notified and, using GPS satellite technology, can help the police track the vehicle in 31 countries across Europe."
Equity funding of £1.75 million was provided by Catapult Venture Managers through the Advantage Enterprise & Innovation Fund, with Lloyds TSB Commercial Finance the remaining £3 million in working capital facilities to develop it further.
Among the improvements being worked on by RDM is making the system so it can use its GPS to transmit navigational information back to the mobile phone, and also a pay as you drive insurance scheme.
Mr Keene said: "The idea is to expand its uses, and make it more interactive. This could be the car's system monitoring how the vehicle is driven and this information being sent to the insurers who work out the premiums accordingly.
"It could also mean if the car develops a fault, it can carry out remote vehicle diagnostics. This means it would 'talk' to a garage to ensure that when it was brought in there would be the right parts in stock to repair it.
"We think the satellite navigation aspect could be ready by the first quarter of next year, and the repair part of it by the autumn."
The security element will remain vital, said Mr Keene, with a potential market of hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year.
It is already selling 1,000 units per year to individual customers in the after market, but the bigger deal could well arrive from joint ventures with car manufacturers.
Mr Keene said: "This is a really big growth area.
"All of the major OEMs have big problems with security. The cars themselves are more secure than ever, but thieves are now breaking into houses for the keys.
"There's going to be massive interest in this in the future. One OEM is already taking it lineside so it is fitted to the vehicles and we've currently got one OEM trialling the system in 40 vehicles in South Africa."
Rob Lott, project manager at Accelerate, which has supported RDM, said: "David and the team have shown the level of innovation and forward thinking that the West Midlands automotive industry has needed to embrace, in order to compete against high volume, low cost competitors from Eastern Europe and the Far East." ..SUPL: