FCI Flexes Connector Muscle The auto industry long has wanted to use flexible wiring onboard cars and trucks, but finding connectors robust enough to work inside the harsh automotive environment has proved problematic. France-based FCI Automotive says it has solved that dilemma with the launch of "the world's first" complete interconnection system used in the automated assembly of flex cable harnesses for automotive use. FCI says its ModuPack system can cut cable harness weight by 50% and trim application costs. FCI says the flexible wiring is ideal for all interior applications, including lighting and power accessories and is particularly suited for use with overhead lighting and rear window wiper and electrical defrost systems, where wiring harnesses must be packaged in the tight space above the headliner.

Getting Serious About Getting the Lead Out It turns out there's a lot of environmentally nasty lead involved in the manufacture of electronic components, including a lead/tin combination in the solder that joins components, plus lead in several components themselves, including electrodes, that results in serious environmental problems. Europe and Japan are leading a concerted effort to make electronics without the baggage of lead, says a Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. official. Matsushita has been at the forefront of Japan's initiatives to remove lead from electronic-component manufacturing, adopting a new tin/silver solder alloy that performs as well as traditional tin/lead solder. Matsushita began limited production in 1998 of circuit boards employing the new solder alloy and says that more than 1 million boards with the new solder have been successfully placed in consumer electronic products since.

TEMIC Speaks Up TEMIC Telefunken Microelectronics GmbH has entered a deal to provide speech-recognition software for Motorola Inc.'s mobileGT driver information system. TEMIC feels trumped by rivals who have been far more vocal about new business initiatives. "Competitors have been bending the truth of their market positions in speech recognition, saying they have relationships with BMW, Audi, Porsche, Fiat or Mercedes-Benz," says Mathias Gollwitzer, TEMIC's director of speech processing. "They may have some business with those companies, but speech recognition solutions in those cars are TEMIC's." TEMIC says it landed its first speech-recognition business with Mercedes in 1997 for its E- and S-Class cars. This year, it is taking its software into a tough acoustical environment - living rooms - where it will be used in European televisions and VCRs. Operations are now in the U.S., where TEMIC says it is ready to do business with North American carmakers.

Infrastructure for Telematics Here Yet? It will take three to five years and $500 million to develop the infrastructure to offer strong dynamic route guidance systems, says a Robert Bosch GmbH official. This is due to different service providers and the need to keep maps up-to-date. Standardized identifying numbers are needed between countries, and an authorized person is needed to do this. Geo-referencing is an alternative but also requires standardization, says Bosch. The U.S. has the advantage of having many private service providers driving the initiative, as opposed to Germany where motorists rely on public radio. "It's the beginning of telematics in the U.S.," says Bosch. Etak Inc. begs to differ, saying an adequate infrastructure is available in the U.S. now.