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Posted: 12/26/2003 9:21:22 AM EDT
OWNERS CAN AVOID CARMAKER GIANT'S FEES FOR GPS SERVICE
By Sandeep Junnarkar
New York Times

Ray and Elna Kawal hit the open road in the fall on an 8,000-mile trip in their 2002 Chevy Tahoe with General Motors' OnStar navigation system serving as their North Star.

From their home in Sequim, Wash., across to Denver and Chicago, down to Mexico and then homeward through Arizona and California, the Kawals followed directions to tourist destinations, hotels and their friends' homes using OnStar's Global Positioning System navigation -- just the kind of business GM covets for its subscription service. But in this case, the automaker didn't make a penny from the six-week excursion.

That's because Ray Kawal, a 57-year-old retired engineer, had pried the OnStar unit from behind the glove compartment and customized it to work with his laptop and commercially available mapping software. His wife read him directions right off the laptop that sat between them. The modified unit was no longer connected to the OnStar network, over which representatives could have provided the same service for a fee.

``My wife was basically doing a lot of what the OnStar service person would do,'' Kawal said. ``Many of the things OnStar wants you to pay for, you can take the unit out and do it yourself.''

Web instructions

Other road warriors are quickly discovering this as Web sites and message boards spring up with step-by-step instructions on removing and personalizing OnStar's navigational and communications components.

While there are no estimates on how many people have customized the device in their cars, those who are proficient at adapting the system are helping friends and family members do so, and some are beginning to parlay their skills into a weekend business.

The hobbyists have OnStar peering around an unforeseen curve.

Bruce Radloff, OnStar's chief technology officer, pointed out that owners who tamper with the system risk voiding the warranty on the OnStar unit -- and more critically, the warranty on the entire car. Yet he acknowledges the temptation.

``From my own perspective -- and GM may feel differently -- once someone buys the car, I guess their desire to modify it and make changes to it is up to them,'' Radloff said. ``But why would you take that kind of risk of invalidating your vehicle warranty when you can go out and buy a GPS receiver for a couple of hundred bucks these days?''

`Freedom to tinker'

The question goes to the heart of a principle long embraced by technologists. Edward W. Felten, a professor of computer science at Princeton University and a leading voice for this philosophy, defines it on his Web log as the ``freedom to tinker'' ethic. This calls for the ``freedom to understand, discuss, repair and modify the technological devices you own.''

Tinkerers seek little justification to deconstruct any technology. A common reason given for fiddling with a device is simply that it's there. These technologists believe that a bit of tweaking will inevitably unearth some innovative uses.

It was this curiosity that led Pete Carter, a 28-year-old computer engineer at an online brokerage in Omaha, to plug a GPS unit he had bought for his father into his own laptop just to see how it would react. To his surprise, the laptop picked up the device without requiring any additional software.

He figured that the components used by OnStar's GPS unit were probably the same and resolved to put his theory to the test. After the challenge of prying the unit loose from behind the dashboard, Carter faced a more daunting task. He had to switch the unit's programming language to one accepted by commercial mapping software and then solder a connection compatible with his laptop. Once he succeeding at harnessing the GPS capabilities of his OnStar system, he created a Tap Into OnStar Web site (mem bers.cox.net/onstar) to help others modify their units.

Fee for service

When a driver requests directions from an OnStar representative, his GPS data is routed over an analog cellular network to OnStar computers. The agent then reads back the directions over the same cellular network. The price for this service, which also includes emergency services and hotel and restaurant recommendations and reservations, is about $420 annually, or $400 if paid upfront.

For some, the success such hobbyists have had in tapping into their personal OnStar units evokes the hacker who seeks to break into a networked system simply out of curiosity.

Security researchers have even raised the specter that as more cars come equipped with OnStar navigation systems, hackers will be tempted to try to exploit the technology to locate OnStar users.
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 9:26:15 AM EDT


Yawn,,so he took his mega$$$ Onstar and turned it into the equivalent of a $200 GPS. That's smart.[whacko]
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 10:05:57 AM EDT
I love how the @sswipe states that there's a good chance that the ENTIRE vehicle's warranty will be voided out. Talk about scare tactics.

Never take the "dealers" rejection of repairs as the final word. I've owned many modified Honda's while still under bumper to bumper warranty. And every now and them, when I needed repairs I was denied due to "modifications". Dealership clown stated he "couldnt touch the car" because I had installed aftermarket cold-air induction system; eventhought the problem at hand was a transmission issue. Dealership simply said..."no, wont work on it under warranty". I said oh yeah?

Took them to arbitration & made the manufacturer answer to an impartial judge about this. It took 45 minute, it was free and I got a kick out of going back to the dealership and telling the same guy that refused to work on my vehicle to get to work...or else. Never had a bigger grin on my face.

Every state has these arbitration boards set up for repairs and/or reimbursements.
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 10:07:41 AM EDT
Originally Posted By Waldo:


Yawn,,so he took his mega$$$ Onstar and turned it into the equivalent of a $200 GPS. That's smart.[whacko]
View Quote


I agree.  What a dumb-ass.
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 10:12:03 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/26/2003 10:12:30 AM EDT by cyanide]
Well if your not signed up, paying and using it, heck , modify it and at least get some free (partial) use out of it.
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 10:51:53 AM EDT
Don't anybody read a f*cking MAP anymore?
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 11:00:11 AM EDT
first thing i would do if i bought a car with onstar would be to put an on off switch on it, so that it would be disabled untill  i needed it.
guess i have my tinfoil hat on. but  no one needs to have a permanent record of  where my car has been.
talk about big brother, all they have to do is ask gm, for your  driving record, and they will know where, when how long you been anywhere.
 where i  go when i go and for how long is my business no one elses, sorry

just think if oj had one in his bronco he could have proved he never left the house, or that he was at  nicoles condo [:D]
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 11:02:23 AM EDT
Whether or not you agree tinkering makes sense, it's happening to alot fo things these days.  Just like the game consoles, alot of hardware is sold near cost, at cost, or below cost because there is a service or media attached to that piece of hardware and that's where the real money comes from.  If you can use you game console to read email, play music and downloaded movies, the game maker's get pissed because you're not buying or renting games.  Same goes with the Onstar service.  GM dished out as much money as they would have done to introduce a new vehicle line to get Onstar rolling, because they imagined if it's convenient and it's there, people will use it.  If someone figures out  a way to use it without paying them, they lose potential income.  Alot of these service-related products are made from off the shelf parts, and that's what makes them easy to crack and tinker with.
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 11:39:40 AM EDT
You have to pay a service fee to OnStar.
You pay to have the GPS, and cell phone module in the car, when you get an Onstar equipped car.

If GM was really interested in the customer, the GPS, that the customer paid for, would already have a built in interface for a lap top or other navigation aid.
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 11:48:47 AM EDT
I agree with OLY-M4gery, there ought to be a USB port in the dash already, and the CD player too.
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 12:53:31 PM EDT
I am waiting for an AFFORDABLE in-dash unit that will allow me to plug a memory stick into the unit via a USB port before I upgrade the sound system in the car or truck.


Originally Posted By Da_Bunny:
I agree with OLY-M4gery,...and the CD player too.
View Quote
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 1:04:59 PM EDT
All you need is this:

[img]http://www.magellangps.com/en/products/getImage.asp?DATAID=3618[/img]

and

[img]http://www.topozone.com/images/translogo.gif[/img]

[url]http://www.topozone.com/viewmaps.asp[/url]
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 2:42:19 PM EDT
i have the map 330 from magellan, and love it, you would have to be really stupid to get lost for more than a  minute or two
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 3:06:06 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/26/2003 3:08:57 PM EDT by cobra-ak]
On the one hand I can see GM getting pissed for tapping into their pay service, but on the other hand GPS is free to use. Granted you need a receiver, but if you buy one it's only a one-time fee for the receiver itself, and the rumor out there is that cellphones wil be equipped with GPS but not for navigational use by the end user.....The only beneficial use I can see from a built in pay service GPS is for tracking your car if it's stolen, sorta like Lo-Jack.....
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 3:35:44 PM EDT
Yawn.

I guess if you wanted to do it just for teh helluv it, and didn't care that there were cheaper ways, go ahead. But why bother?

The onstar GPS uses non NMEA data output, so you have to covert thsoe to NMEA, and then interface with your software. A used Magellan 315, likes hown above, is about $75 on Ebay and will do all that and so much more. Plug it into your laptop and your in business.

Its not like they are actually using the onstart system for free, just the GPS thats in it.

Heck, when the new Garmin 60C comes out next mount it will be the first GPS with a USB port, a huge step!
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 3:37:33 PM EDT
Originally Posted By cobra-ak:
On the one hand I can see GM getting pissed for tapping into their pay service, but on the other hand GPS is free to use. Granted you need a receiver, but if you buy one it's only a one-time fee for the receiver itself, and the rumor out there is that cellphones wil be equipped with GPS but not for navigational use by the end user.....The only beneficial use I can see from a built in pay service GPS is for tracking your car if it's stolen, sorta like Lo-Jack.....
View Quote


Not rumor, all cellphones sold today are equipped with a GPS, the data is only sent if you dial 911, and cannot be accesed in any other way.
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 4:36:43 PM EDT
Check again about all new cellphones having GPS:  I don't think it's the full-fledged satellite GPS, but another form of location service that works off it's distance from multiple towers.
Link Posted: 12/26/2003 4:48:56 PM EDT
Originally Posted By Garand_Shooter:
Not rumor, all cellphones sold today are equipped with a GPS,....
View Quote


Not.  From someone in the wireless business as a technician.  That would be me.  
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