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A Car Computer For Gastronomy, Not Gas Mileage

Developments to Watch


YOUR CAR'S COMPUTER WILL lead you by the nose if you have one of those fancy new systems with a dashboard screen that plots where you are on a detailed street map. Next, says Ray E. Eberts, an associate professor of industrial engineering at Purdue University, the computer may also help you sniff out your favorite chow.

Eberts is wrapping up a yearlong project that turned one car's computer into a restaurant guide on wheels. He fed the computer information on local eateries and built in a software "agent" that kept tabs on which restaurants the car visited. The agent, based on a "smart" program known as a neural network, quickly learned the passengers' dining preferences and how they varied depending on the day of the week, time of day, and number of occupants in the car. Assuming the patterns were fairly consistent, "the agent needed only about 10 examples to start making good predictions," says Eberts. After that, recommendations had a 90% accuracy rate or better. Eberts, who has worked six years on various neural network agents, hopes to show his mobile gourmet to Detroit's Big Three and other interested companies later this year.EDITED BY NEIL GROSS

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