'I Pity Da Fool That Doesn't Take This Exit!'

Imagine Mr. T giving you driving directions. What ringtones did for your cell phone, Navtones hope to do for your GPS.

Back in his stand-up comic days, Eddie Murphy joked about the newest trend in cars at the time, having them talk to their owner, such as saying the lights were on or the door was open. His car, he said, had an attitude. "Yer lights are on. You deaf and blind? I said your lights are on!" he exclaimed to audience approval.

Murphy may have been prescient. A startup company called Wanderlust Media has introduced Navtones, celebrity voices for your GPS system that add a little spice to the generic, often monotone voices.

Founder and CEO Will Andre got the idea after a friend updated his car's GPS system and wasn't keen on an unwanted change to the system. "He said 'I spent $250 to get my navigation CD updated and my super hot middle European chick was gone and replaced with some chick from the Midwest.' That sort of simmered for a while and eventually we decided to break away and start Navtones," he told InternetNews.com.

Andre is a veteran of the music industry with connections in the entertainment community that he's leveraging to get a variety of voices. For now, the list of voices is hardly A-list: Mr. T, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Hopper and Gary Busey are the most recognizable names, along with Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who has his own high tech project in the works. Cost ranges from $5.95 for character voices like New York Cabby, to $12.95 for the celebrity voices.

However, Andre expects to get more recognizable voices. "Our strategy is to go for people with recognizable voices, regardless of where they fall in the status du jour of Hollywood," he said.

The intent is not just to have celebrities telling you to turn right or exit the highway but add a little of the personality, not unlike Eddie Murphy's original joke more than 25 years ago.

"Right now, the voices are a fairly sharp pain point. It drives people batty. It's the repetition that kills people, hearing the same things over and over, so we do multiple versions of voices," he said.

Wanderlust is working with the GPS manufacturers to get access to the underlying applications, so it's not just a replacement of stock voice commands. The plan is to put action-based responses into the players. One example: if you don't make a turn, Mr. T threatens you with "Don't make me come outta this machine."

TomTom is Wanderlust's launch partner but Andre said the company is in talks with others under non-disclosure agreement. It's an especially tough project for Wanderlust because there is no standard in compiling directions. One manufacturer may generate a single voice file, while another might stitch together several files, each containing a few words, to achieve the same playback response.

Removable GPS systems can be updated by connecting them to the user's computer and performing the update through an iTunes-like interface. Since GPS systems built into the car's dashboard use a DVD-ROM that is regularly updated, the new voices would come via DVD-ROM.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com.

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