n one of the more oft-quoted scenes in cinema, the young Dustin Hoffman is succinctly lectured by one of his father's businessman friends about how to spend his future.
"Plastics," the man tells "The Graduate."
That was in 1971. Fast-forward to 2000, and substitute "Bluetooth" for "plastics."
Bluetooth may, in fact, also spell the future of cellular phones and provide a way around the new laws that regulate DWT -- driving while talking.
The Bluetooth technology, developed by electronics giants IBM, Intel, Toshiba and others, is one likely way to allow drivers to keep their hands free while still communicating in a mobile environment. Bluetooth-equipped devices employ a shortwave-radio frequency for short-distance transmissions, which would allow a driver with a mini-mike attached to his or her shirt to communicate using a computer hidden in the trunk.
But Bluetooth is only one of the potential alternatives to a driver holding a phone to his ear while piloting a vehicle. Because of recent public attention to the inherent dangers in talking while driving, phone companies are gearing up to offer these options.
Last week, Suffolk County, N.Y., lawmakers approved a measure that stipulates a $150 fine for anyone caught holding a phone and talking or listening while driving. Hands-free devices in a vehicle, such as headsets or speaker sets, would be allowed. The bill would become law if County Executive Robert Gaffney signs it by early November.
While the wireless industry had initially disputed claims that wireless phones cause accidents, that stance has softened. Last week, in the face of the proposal by Suffolk lawmakers, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless said his company does support drivers using hands-free devices. In Chicago recently, the same company agreed to support a proposal for the state of Illinois to mandate hands-free devices in cars, with a three-year phase-in period.
"We support teaching people how to use their phones safely while driving," said Kathleen Dunleavy, a spokeswoman for Sprint PCS. "We stress that they use common sense."
While systems that employ the Bluetooth electronics are close by -- Ericsson is already showing a tri-band cell phone, the R520, with an always-on Internet connection that's due in 2001 -- mobile phones already have a number of packages that can aid drivers who don't want to hold the phone to their ears (although one Motorola model, the V8160, is so mini that it fits neatly into an average-sized palm).
The headsets, which plug into a universal jack on a cell phone (much in the way headphones plug into a portable stereo), allow the user to listen and talk hands-free. They cost from $15 for a basic earbud to upward of $50, which gets you a sophisticated, minimalist headset from Jabra that incorporates a microphone into the earplug.
While wired headsets account for the majority of "hands-free" devices, the market is also booming for the more expensive kits that are installed directly into automobile cockpits.
These complete car kits, which sell for about $170 to about $250, including installation, generally include a cradle mounted in the car for the phone and a module with speaker and mike, as well as an antenna mounted on the car's exterior to improve reception.
Incoming calls are answered automatically through the speaker, and the phones can be programmed for a simple, one-button speed dial.
Less complex are the so-called "express" car kits, which work like the installed version but are powered by a plug-in adaptor to the cigarette lighter, rather than hard-wired to the car's electronic harness.
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