Verizon Vehicle aims to bring OnStar-like service to the rest of us

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The Verizon Vehicle Bluetooth speaker, with its one-touch controls

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While you may or may not be a fan of General Motors vehicles, the automaker's OnStar roadside assistance service certainly looks like it could be useful at times. Well, US-based consumers with other makes of cars should soon be able to take advantage of a similar setup, when the just-announced Verizon Vehicle system launches.

There are two main hardware components to Verizon Vehicle – an OBD (on-board diagnostics) reader that is plugged into the car's underdash diagnostic port, plus a Bluetooth speaker that clips onto the driver's-side visor, and which is paired with their smartphone.

As is already the case with the Automatic and Fixd devices, the OBD unit reads code generated by the car's diagnostic system, and relays it to the user in the form of easy-to-understand texts or push notifications on their phone. This means that instead of simply getting a "check engine" warning on their dash, users will receive an alert stating the description and severity of the problem, along with other information. Maintenance alerts – such as reminders of required oil changes – are also provided, and can be managed using a dedicated free app.

The Verizon Vehicle OBD reader

Once they know that their vehicle needs attention, users can seek real-time advice from an ASE (Automotive Service Excellence)-certified mechanic using a members' hotline. Should the problem actually cause the car to break down at the side of the road, they can use the system to summon a tow truck – the driver will be able to locate the car using via the GPS unit in its Verizon Vehicle system.

A single button on the speaker allows users to both connect to the hotline and get roadside assistance. A second SOS button immediately puts them in touch with a Verizon Vehicle Member Care Center agent, in the case of an emergency such as an accident. As with OnStar, these agents will also contact the driver if the car's onboard electronics suggest that an accident has taken place. If the driver doesn't respond, emergency responders will be dispatched to the location.

Other features of the service include the abilities to guide users back to their vehicle (should they forget where they parked), and to help police locate the vehicle if it's stolen.

Verizon Vehicle should be compatible with just about any vehicle made and sold in the US since 1996, and does not require users to be Verizon mobile customers. The service will require a US$15/month membership fee, and is scheduled to launch in the United States this spring.

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