Tag Archives | Cars

Ford Lets Phones Talk to Cars

Over at Techland, I’ve blogged about a cool demo I saw at the CTIA show here in San Francisco today: Ford’s new SDK which lets Android and BlackBerry developers write apps that control the Ford Sync in-dash entertainment/information system.

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The Flintstones: Fifty Years of Irresponsible Driving

Last night, I expressed concern that Google’s celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of The Flintstones appeared to involve a grisly scene with Bamm Bamm’s severed head stored on the roof of Fred’s car. My post has inspired some comments, including the suggestion that Bamm Bamm is alive and well and merely riding up there, as well as a “grassy knoll” theory.

The topic clearly merited additional research. My friend Andrew Leal found a number of relevant images–check ’em out after the jump.

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Eric Schmidt’s Frightening Futurism

Cnet’s Tom Krazit thinks that Google CEO Eric Schmidt should be careful with his visions of a profoundly computer-augmented future:

It’s not that Schmidt is wrong or misguided in making these predictions: the seeds for such a future were sown long ago. But Schmidt and Google never seem to understand how much they freak some people out when they evangelize a future that de-emphasizes the role of people in their day-to-day lives.

I agree that Schmidt’s enthusiasm can be unsettling, at least on first blush (which is not the same thing as saying that his predictions won’t come true, or that I won’t be happy if they do). When he talks about the end of human-driven cars, one of the questions that pops into my head is this: Does Google plan to run the computers that run the planet’s automobiles?


Inside Volkswagen's Silicon Valley Gadget Lab

Volkswagen never wants you to forget that its cars are engineered in Germany–hey, its current slogan is “Das Auto.” But cool Web tools,  innovative gizmos, and digital entertainment aren’t exactly synonymous with German engineering. It’s Silicon Valley that’s the world’s headquarters for that stuff. And so it’s not that startling that much of VW’s work on new and future electronics, gadgetry, and interfaces happens at its Electronics Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, in close proximity to electronics engineering talent the company might want to hire and tech companies it might want to work with. The ERL is also a quick drive away from Stanford University’s Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab, where VW collaborates with university students and researchers on new technologies. (I wrote about VAIL’s self-driving Passat a few months ago.)

As part of VW’s press event for the 2011 Jetta, I took a tour of the ERL last week. Herewith, some photographic highlights.

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California Considers Platevertising

The scariest California disaster at the moment has nothing to do with earthquakes, mudslides, or brushfires–it’s the state’s financial crisis. I spend my share of time stressing out over it, and appreciate the need for extraordinary responses. But I still have my doubts about a bill which would roll out electronic license plates to Californian motorists–ones which could display ads when cars were stopped at red lights or otherwise temporarily out of motion.

This article on the proposed technoplates doesn’t provide much detail, other than that the ads would kick in only when a car was stopped for at least four seconds, and that a company called Smart Plate might be involved. But even if you aren’t worried about the potential for the plates being dangerously distracting, the government mandating that we put ads on our cars doesn’t sound wildly different from insisting that we install neong signs in our living-room windows. (No, Governor Schwarzenegger, that wasn’t a suggestion.)

Howsabout this: What if the plates were strictly optional–but driver who elected to use them got a cut of the ad revenue? Each citizen could choose whether to go commercial or keep his or her car a commercial-free zone. Or raise auto-related fees but offer the plate ads as a way of avoiding the hikes. Or something. Your ideas welcome…


Volkswagen’s Autonomous Car: Drivers Unneccesary

On Thursday afternoon, I went for a very short ride–maybe forty yards–in the back seat of a diesel Volkswagen Passat. Here’s why I’m writing about it on a site called Technologizer: The car had no driver. I was attending the formal dedication of the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab (VAIL) at Stanford University–complete with a ceremonial ribbon cutting by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The car in question was Junior 3, a collaborative effort between VW and Stanford researchers.

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Audi A8 is Google-Ready

I kinda doubt that I’ll ever own an Audi A8–I’m still perfectly pleased with my 2004 Mazda 3. But the new A8 does have an option I’d kill for: built-in Google Earth.

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A Dream Car for Tech Lovers

Is there any part of our lives that’s more backwards from a digital-technology standpoint than the hours we spend in the second homes known as cars? Interesting exceptions such as Ford Sync aside, automobiles seem to routinely run about half a decade behind the rest of the world when it comes to personal technology. (I felt positively triumphant when I recently installed an adapter that lets me listen to my iPhone in the car–woo hoo!)

So the concept car being announced today by nG Connect–a consortium of companies involved in the next-generation LTE wireless broadband standard–is, indeed, a dream machine.  Designed by LTE infrastructure company Alcatel Lucent, Atlantic Records, infogizmo maker Chumby, kid site Kabillion, real-time operating system developer QNX, and Toyota, the modified Prius sports large multiple Net -connected touchscreens (including separate ones for the driver and front passenger) that deliver information services such as GPS navigation, car diagnostics, and home monitoring; music and movies (not to the driver, I assume!); networked games; shopping, and more.

It’s also a rolling hotspot so you can use laptops and Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones and other wireless gizmos.

When will we be able to park something like this in our own driveways? Well, LTE should start to matter next year. Judging from past history with network rollouts, I’m assuming it’s going to be awhile until it’s available everywhere I want to drive. (I rode in the passenger’s seat down California’s Highway 1 this weekend, and even plain old EVDO often disappeared on me.) I figure it’s also going to be awhile before car companies build even a fraction of this stuff into real vehicles–and once they do, it’ll be awhile longer before it’s priced for mere humans.

All of which is fine by me. I’m nowhere near ready to retire my trusty 2004 Mazda3, so if it’s a few years before this concept car becomes affordable reality, I can wait.

Does it appeal to you?


Gadgets and Cars: Dangerous Together, Period?

iPhone CarThe New York Times has published a scary article reporting that in 2003, the U.S. Department of Transportation came to the conclusion that talking on the phone while driving–even with a hands-free kit–was alarmingly distracting and dangerous. (In 2002, about 955 fatalities resulted from cell phone use while driving.) The DoT was afraid of ticking off Congress and never did much with its research, the Times charges.

The Times says that some studies have shown that yakking on the phone while behind the wheel can be as risky as driving under the influence of alcohol. Which inevitably leads to the question, if it’s as dangerous as drunk driving, should it be just as illegal?

And that’s only one of the questions that the Times story left me asking myself. In gizmo time, 2003 was several generations ago. Today’s wireless phones don’t just let you make calls–they provide driving directions, music, movies, social networking, and a lot more. I assume that we can all agree that you shouldn’t watch Hancock or update your Twitter status while in the driver’s seat of a moving vehicle. (If you don’t agree, I hope you steer clear of highways 101 and 280 in Northern California.) But what about GPS? Or using your phone as a radio, especially if you switch channels at 60mph?

Here in California, we have a law that mandates use of hands-free kits and forbids texting. You may be stunned to hear that it’s widely ignored and hard to enforce. It also seems a tad outdated and confusing: It says it’s “an infraction to write, send, or read text-based communication on an electronic wireless communications device.” Does that refer to text messaging, or to just about anything that involves reading or writing of text on a gadget?

And hey, is my built-in GPS navigation system any safer than one I might use on my iPhone?

I’m still sorting out my feelings here. I don’t want to be killed by someone who ploughed into my car while reading TMZ. Nor do I wish to kill anyone else while editing video on my iPhone. But I’m worried about prohibitionism, too. (Yes, outlawing the use of wireless devices while driving–including hands-free use–would save lives. Then again, so would outlawing driving.)

What’s your take on all this? Any ideas on how technology can help solve the problem? Is voice recognition part of the solution?