Many companies are developing products to improve driver safety, security and convenience via communications between vehicles and their electronic systems and remote locations. Much of the work may have to be refined depending on the standards for a national intelligent transportation system (ITS), which aren't expected for several months.

The bandwagon, nonetheless, is filling up. The latest entrant is automotive interior manufacturer Prince Corp., which is teaming with pager-services provider SkyTel to bring what they call AutoLink to market.

"Personal communications in vehicles will get more intense in 1999 and 2000," says Michael Suman, vice president-marketing and advanced sales at Prince. "And this is the best value communication technology, compared to cellular, which draws a lot of battery power."

AutoLink, now in prototype, is tied to the vehicle's other electronics and offers automatic emergency response, theft deterrence, vehicle tracking and immobilization, two-way personal paging, remote vehicle unlocking, navigational guidance and location-based information services.

Using two-way wireless communication on narrow-band personal communications services (PCS) radio waves and a global positioniung system (GPS) receiver, AutoLink is expected to be offered in three packages: personal safety, vehicle security and driver convenience.

The prototype safety package includes emergency road assistance. Pushing one of three buttons (one each for medical, police or roadside assistance) transmits a message from the vehicle to a central network.

The vehicle security package includes passive theft intervention, vehicle tracking, location and immobilization, all activated after a phone call to a toll-free 800 number.

Using the same technology, the driver convenience package offers navigational guidance, remote vehicle unlocking, two-way messaging, driver information, fleet management, remote diagnostics and personalized system settings for radio and seating, temperature and other settings.

Mr. Suman says top price for AutoLink with all three packages is $500, a bargain compared with other navigation aids that retail for $1,500 to $2,000 without the messaging features.

Cellular PCS, which has three times the current cellular spectrum allocation, could add to AutoLink's potential. Cell phones now use 60 MHz in the 800 MHz band. PCS offers 180 MHz from 1.8 GHz to 2.0 GHz. And it's all digital, which further increases capacity.

CellPort Labs has developed a universal interface called CellBase that would connect a cellular phone to a vehicle's electronic systems and add voice communications to a system such as AutoLink. Other advantages of having CellBase in a vehicle, says Pat Kennedy, CellPort chairman, are hands-free phone operation, power, charging and external antenna capabilities.

Cellular PCS now is in use in Washington, DC, and will go nationwide by 1998.