To test the feasibility and compatibility of competing technologies, Ford Motor Co. and Tier-1 automotive supplier Delphi outfitted a Lincoln Aviator with Wi-Fi. A separate system lets it receive streaming video, including full-length movies, from Sirius, a satellite-based broadcasting company.

In the testbed Aviator, driverscan use the wireless link to download music from inside their homes or from Wi-Fi hotspots at cafès and send them to the vehicle wirelessly. Software categorizes downloaded audio files into folders. Music, for example, is automatically cataloged by artist, album, or genre.

Ford says it should soon be possible to transfer personal information to cars from sources such as Wi-Fi enabled PDAs, cell phones, and PCs. It could let drivers receive real-time weather and traffic updates on roads they will be travelling. Wi-Fi may also be a way to pay for meals, tolls, and parking using the radio.

The number of Wi-Fi users was expected to triple between 2003 and the end of last year, bringing the total-to more than 390 million. And the number of hotspots is projected to grow from 65,000 in 2004 to more than 350,000 by 2008. Sales of Wi-Fi products, meanwhile, are predicted to hit $44 billion by 2008. Ford, for example intends on selling 20 models next year and rollout a Sirius option in 2007.