Web Cams Zoom In On The Auto Show
Net surfers to see site from 50 angles
January 7, 2000
By Rachel Konrad
Go To Microsoft's MSN CarPoint:
For web cam access.
A word of advice for anyone planning to scope out the 2000 North American International Auto Show: Don't do anything you wouldn't do in front of mom.
She could be watching.
With more than 50 Web cams perched in the rafters of Cobo Center, Web surfers can pan, tilt and zoom lenses toward a variety of vehicles and scenes -- including people walking on the show floor or sitting in vehicles.
The 2000 show will be home to roughly three times as many Web cams as the 1999 show, and their quality has improved dramatically: Some can focus on a subject three miles away.
Their photos are grainier than those taken with a point-and-shoot camera. But experts say it's possible to identify people and get an accurate image of a dashboard or headlight from a Web cam photo. Users can even take a snapshot and send it as an electronic postcard.
"Part of the fun of cruising the Web and looking at these shows is to see not only the cars but the people and celebrities -- the entire event," said Rick Otto, senior project manager of Perceptual Robotics Inc. of Evanston Ill., which is installing nine Web cams.
The cams bring up safety and privacy concerns for the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association, which sponsors the annual show. DADA and Microsoft, which will operate four cams, drafted an official Web cam policy this year.
"Heaven forbid if someone starts taking spy photos or starts stalking someone," said CarPoint editor and publisher Mark Hickling.
According to official show rules, viewing range must not exceed exhibition space -- no shots of pizza vendors or restrooms. Operators must get permission 10 days before broadcasting, and all outbound signals must pass through Microsoft monitors.
Microsoft will not operate its Web cams during the black-tie Charity Preview Jan. 14. The number of executives and other dignitaries present at the annual gala presented security risks, Hickling said. But rules do not forbid Web cams during the Charity Preview, and several automakers plan to keep cams rolling during the champagne fete.
Policy drafters said they weren't overly concerned about privacy. They said Web cams were no different than television cameras, microphones, tape recorders and other equipment.
About 6,000 journalists are expected to attend the media preview Jan. 9-12, and local television and radio stations will broadcast from Cobo Center during the public days, Jan. 15-23.
Policy drafters were blunt about privacy concerns.
"If someone were here with someone they weren't supposed to be with," said NAIAS Cochairman Russ Shelton, "well, that's their problem, not ours."
RACHEL KONRAD can be reached via e-mail at
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Detroit's Auto Show Gets Hot-Wired
By Rachel Konrad

January 7, 2000

Move over, Silicon Valley. Here comes Silicon Center -- Cobo Center, to be exact.

With more Internet connections than rival auto extravaganzas in Tokyo, Frankfurt or Geneva, the 2000 North American International Auto Show is poised to become the world's most wired auto show. Experts speculate that Detroit's automotive blowout could become the most wired event open to the general public under one roof.

How wired will the auto show be? Consider this:

 - More than 50 Web cams -- cameras that broadcast live on the World Wide Web -- will provide access to product launches, executive speeches and other journalist-only events.

 - General Motors' display will use more electricity each day than the city of Pontiac. GM Experience requires 22 miles of power, video, audio, voltage control and communications cable.

 - More virtual attendees are expected to visit the official Web site than the people likely to walk in. Organizers expect 750,0000 people; more will visit sponsored by Microsoft's MSN CarPoint.

"This is totally cool stuff," CarPoint editor and publisher Mark Hickling said. "We're going to take people behind the scenes -- not just during press preview week but to other events to give people a feeling of being there."

CarPoint will begin broadcasting on Sunday, the first day of the media preview, and continue throughout most of the following two weeks.

No one keeps track of the number of Web cams or Internet stations at auto shows or other public events. Nevertheless, experts from Detroit to California to Tokyo say it's highly unlikely that so many Internet connections have converged on a single general-interest event -- not counting computer trade shows.

At a typical National Basketball Association game, for example, technicians install only three or four Web cams. Zeptron Pictures Inc. of Ann Arbor said the auto show will have more than 50.

"I have never heard of so many Web cams in one place," said Pehong Chen, president of BroadVision Inc. The Redwood City, Calif., company specializes in using the Internet to build customer relationships.

Chen said he wasn't surprised that the Detroit show has become a technology showplace, given the important role technology has always had in the auto industry.

"This is not just about putting technology into the auto show but into the entire transportation industry," Chen said. "The Onstar system, the Mercedes Global Positioning Satellite -- it's all part of the wireless and Internet revolution that is finding itself into everyone's day-to-day life."

The Detroit auto show also will mark the debut of some other technologies.

The GM Experience will feature 40 graphite gray Power Mac G4 computers. Apple Computer shipped the machines in mid-December, weeks before they became available to general consumers. G4s -- the fastest machine ever designed to run graphics applications -- are expected to become cult favorites, similar to the more affordable, colorful iMacs introduced in 1998. They cost about $2,800.

CarPoint also will debut Be Here iVideo, which combines 360-degree panoramic imaging with full-motion video. Computer viewers can scan taped footage of anything on the show floor in the camera's 360-degree environment. The system is similar to Web cams, except that iVideo includes moving video instead of snapshots.

No one will talk about the cost of Cobo's connectivity; service providers have signed no-disclosure contracts. But according to executives at Big Net Inc., the Sterling Heights company that provides all the Internet connections, a single T1 line that hooks computers directly to the Internet costs about $1,000 per month.

So the 12 T1 lines installed at Cobo are worth at least $12,000 -- not including equipment, installation or usage fees.

The Detroit show's connectivity has widened its scope and stature. Live shots will beam into the homes and offices of auto enthusiasts around the world who cannot come to Detroit. The city also will be more vulnerable to catastrophe.

Computer contractors fret that a snowstorm similar to the one last January could knock out power lines and crash computers. To ensure smooth surfing at the GM Experience, programmers at BlueWater Visual Services of Southfield stored hundreds of sites off-line.

"It's been fine so far," said auto show cochairman Russ Shelton. "We haven't had any glitches or crashes."

RACHEL KONRAD can be reached via e-mail at