I got a first-hand demonstration of the Parrot Internet car radio Tuesday at the WWJ radio ranch, and let me tell you, slick doesn’t begin to cover it.

Parrot is a Paris-based company with its North American automotive headquarters in Southfield. The company is best known for its hands-free Bluetooth kits that allow hands-free calling while driving — and more recently for its strictly-for-fun ARdrone “quadricopter” helicopter toy.

With the Asteroid, Parrot moves into a new league.

The Asteroid fits into a standard DIN1 car radio size slot in an auto dashboard — roughly the size of a brick. But it packs much of the power of a real computer into that space, and a user interface that will keep drivers focused on the road.

The left side of the unit is a detachable control panel dominated by a round switch that allows the user to switch and select applications; the right side is dominated by a 3.2-inch video screen. An SD card slot is hidden behind the detachable panel. On the back, the unit features four USB inputs along with analog and GPS inputs.

The Asteroid gets its Internet access one of two ways — by being tethered to a smartphone, or by a cell phone dongle.

Peter George, Parrot vice president, said the unit will debut with six apps pre-installed. I got a close look at the Maps app, a slick search program based on GPS location and Google maps for restaurants, movie theaters and more. Roadtrip is an itinerary app that offers Wikipedia information, photos and directions to attractions. Another app, Wikango, warns drivers of speed traps and red-light cameras ahead, and lets users report the locations of accidents or mobile cameras. The Textfriendly app will read text messages and emails to you through your car stereo, and you can “talk back” to it to reply to texts or emails.

The Asteroid’s voice control system lets you play music by simply saying the name of the artist or album, and voice dial any of your phone’s contacts.

The Asteroid also features the Tunein Internet radio, a connection to 50,000 Internet radio stations around the world, which you can search by genre or location.

Oh, and yes, there’s an AM and FM radio included too. (You’ll still want the traffic and local news from WWJ Newsradio 950, of course.)

The Asteroid will go on sale in October at a suggested retail price of $349, and will be available at Parrot.com, Amazon.com, Crutchfield.com, Fry’s, Car Toys and other outlets.


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