NOVI, MI – Parts-giant Continental AG launches AutoLinQ, an Android-based software bringing smartphone-like applications such as streaming music and email into the vehicle.

Brian Droessler, vice president-strategy and portfolio for the Continental Infotainment and Connectivity Business Unit, calls AutoLinQ a “flagship innovation” for the German supplier, already the industry’s No.1 provider of instrument cluster and embedded telematics systems.

“AutoLinQ is quite simply an Android operating system embedded in the car and running applications,” he tells journalists during a preview of the technology ahead of its unveiling at the Telematics Detroit 2010 conference here.

“And the unique thing about that is it takes advantage of an ecosystem of third-party developers that exists today and capitalizes on an existing (software-development kit) that developers are familiar with,” Droessler says.

AutoLinQ brings the Android operating systems found in BlackBerry and Droid smartphones into the vehicle, using a semi-open platform where applications developers can submit their content. In short, the system turns the vehicle into a smartphone.

But because the software is embedded in the vehicle, it does away with the handheld device and makes access to those content applications through a vehicle’s existing human machine interface.

Continental believes by doing away with the handheld device, it can minimize driver distraction while maximizing the driving experience.

Droessler traces development of AutoLinQ back to three main ingredients. First and foremost, the supplier addressed safety and ease of use by tailoring HMI systems to suit the needs of individual auto makers as well as the consumer.

“Zero or 1-click operation” was the goal, he says, utilizing speech commands and redundant steering-wheel controls.

Continental also targeted development of an end-to-end system, so it brought on six partners with individual areas of content expertise to complement its hardware.

For example, carrier Deutsche Telekom connects drivers to personalized content and information, such as email and news using text-to-speech technology, through a high-speed wireless network.

Pandora gives users access to streaming radio, while Navteq Corp. provides services such as real-time traffic, fuel prices, points of interest and in-vehicle diagnostics.

Navigon AG supplies additional navigation software, IT provider Ygomi LLC lets drivers connect to dealers for vehicle service and an Inrix Inc. application helps commuters negotiate traffic with its real-time and predictive technology.

“Bringing these partners together is the key to bringing an end-to-end solution to the OEM,” Droessler says.

Finally, Continental sought an open platform to develop applications. “That’s the reason behind the choice of Android,” he says, “leveraging their third-party development community and the SDKs that everybody knows today.”

Droessler, who has spent the last year shopping the system to auto makers, expects consumers most likely will purchase the system in a fashion similar to General Motors Co.’s OnStar telematics system, where plans exist at different price points.

And like smart-phone apps, content would be free to download or come with a charge from the third-party developer.

Continental plans to tailor the depth of the system to the OEM, because some auto makers are further along than others in the development of similar systems.

“Some already have a system that is down the road, where they want to layer something like this on top. Some are much more at the infancy stage and still thinking about a turn-key system,” he says.

Droessler expects to announce the first batch of auto makers to use the system early next year, with an application appearing in North American cars and trucks by model-year ’13.

Continental and its partners will work together with OEMs to determine if a potential app fits the vehicle environment safely. Interest in AutoLinQ from the app community is large, despite Continental’s limited promotion of the system outside of the auto industry.

“We’ve had so many inquiries, it has overloaded our team,” says Droessler, who expects auto makers also will write their own apps, perhaps tailored for vehicle brand.

AutoLinQ also includes a feature linking it to a mobile phone or desktop, so users could, for example, find their vehicle in a crowded parking lot; remotely activate the lights of their car or truck at dark; track its whereabouts from home; or put limits on vehicle functions for younger drivers.

Key-fob identification could tailor infotainment settings to different drivers of the same vehicle.

The 2-day Telematics Detroit, bringing together senior executives among auto makers and telematics industry suppliers, ends tomorrow.