The Origins of OnStar

Founded in 1995, OnStar has been a leader in driving automotive innovation through digital communication. A staple in General Motors’ offering of safety and convenience to its customers, OnStar represented a combined effort between GM, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), and Hughes Electronics Corporation. Former GM CEO, Rick Wagoner, ushered in the official arrival of OnStar at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show, with production examples of the new connectivity technology appearing in 1997 model year Cadillac vehicles.

OnStar distinguished itself as a proponent of driver assistance technology by providing the first embedded telematics system. Incredibly, before commercial use of satellites and wireless networks, GM engineers designed a system called the “Driver Aid, Information and Routing (DAIR)” system for two prototype vehicles in 1966.


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The DAIR system relied on punch cards to provide information for basic turn-by-turn directions. The driver could “record” a route with turns being represented as different gaps in the card’s surface. A series of radio relay stations and magnetic sensors buried in roads communicated everything from directions to road conditions and accident reports. Interestingly, engineers at the time endeavored to provide the same metrics to drivers that we have come to appreciate in today’s world.


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However, the infrastructure and extensive overhaul to America’s roadways that would have been required to support DAIR proved untenable. While a production implementation of DAIR technology was never realized, the advent of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and wireless communication has allowed for its core goals to be met.

After completing the transition to a digital platform in 2007, OnStar systems offered more efficient means of data processing and communication.
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The future looks bright for OnStar, as new technology applications are constantly being explored. COO Terry Inch announced in 2013 that OnStar would pursue implementing 4G technology as part of its digital offering. As the technology of OnStar evolves, so does its business model. The potential for flexible fees on existing cellular data plans is being explored, as well as streaming entertainment, and custom driver applications.

From its beginnings, OnStar systems were capable of bringing turn-by-turn direction and 24/7 live assistance to drivers. More than just a GPS-based direction system, OnStar offers customers a sense of security and support for emergencies and everyday use.

Learn more about OnStar.