Monday, January 12, 2009

In-car computing, or how I'm dealing with my inner Luddite

My first reaction when I started reading about the in-car computing products being touted at last week's mega Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was to text myself OMG.

Then I realized, OMG, I really didn't have to text myself. I could actually think the thought directly to and from my very own brain without having to use my handy-dandy, but in this case not necessary, opposable thumbs.

In-car computing! How much more of it do we really need?

After all, every time we step toe out of the house we're already in peril from in-car cell phoners, texters, and iPod-ders driven to distraction by their consumer electronics. Enough, already!

I used to imagine that, if I were going to be killed in a car accident, it would be while driving in the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Well, that rotary has been made all better with the introduction of lights. Plus I don't drive much anymore.

So I have revised my forecast of car accident death: if it happens, it will be because I was mowed down by a young, fur-coated matron driving an Escalade as she races to pick up Chloe and Trip from the drop off point for their private school bus, saving them from the need to walk 200 yards home. Our young matron will be on her smartphone (note: no longer just a plain old cell phone - so very yesterday), and will fail to observe the stop sign on the corner of River and Beacon.

Alas, I will fail to calculate the speed at which she is traveling, not to mention fail to recognize that she is so involved in her ultra-important phone conversation that she won't see me. I will step out into the street, and she will run me over. Thinking that I'm just a large chunk of iced-up slush that has gotten stuck in the Escalade's axle, she will proceed to the bus stop post haste, at which point either Chloe or Trip will bleat, "Mommy, what's that dead women in the old LL Bean Parka doing wrapped around our axle." [Note to Palin-watchers: that's Trip with one p, the approved, preppy nickname for John Beresford Tipton III, not the new two-p Tripp coinage used by Bristol and Levi for their little one.]

But, I - the still very much alive I - digress.

Over the weekend, I read an article on CNN on the in-car computing that was showcased at CES.

And I have come to the conclusion that, clear and soon to be even more present dangers aside, I'm pretty much okay with it. Sort of.

First up in the article was some information on an upcoming offering from Ford: dashboard computing in their pickup trucks.

In March, Ford will release a fully functional, dashboard computer -- complete with keyboard -- geared to contractors and other business folks who want to access the Web, review documents and log inventory while on the go.

Plus, AT&T's bringing out a TV version of XM-Sirius Radio. That'll bring 22 channels for your in-car viewing pleasure. (You're not just cruising, you're channel cruising.  If someone starts using my tagline, you heard it here first.)

With the in-car computer, I'm okay with that contractor in his parked vehicle running some numbers and printing out an invoice. 

Yet my inner Luddite yelped 'just what we need, guys cruising around in 4x4's while watching sudden death football playoff games on ESPN. '

That 4x4 may be built Ford tough, but the car I would likely be traveling in would probably not have been.

Much as I might want Adam Vinatieri to miss that field goal, I really don't want to die for it.

And I also started think that, when you combine two things together - like a car and a personal computer - you are probably going to get some weird hybrid that doesn't quite work in either direction, like a Barcalounger with a built in fridge.

But I dismissed this thought and replaced it with another. And the other I replaced it with is hey, this is coming whether I like it or not, so let's just hope they figure out a way to make it safe rather than sorry. New cars are already coming equipped with MP3 players, Bluetooth connections, and onboard navigation equipment. Help with parallel parking? That's so old hat,

I blogged about it in 206.

Full in-car computing is inevitable.

So I was cheered to learn that Hyundai is:

...launching a system that warns motorists when they drift out of the lane they're traveling in. Another manufacturer has developed pedestrian-detection software that works with heat-seeking cameras to alert drivers when someone is in their path.

That "other manufacturer," FLIR Systems, has a camera to detect us pedestrian heat sources. Once it spots one:

...the on-board computer alerts the driver by highlighting the pedestrian in yellow on the dashboard screen.

Hmmmm. This means that the driver would be looking at his computer, not at the road, which may be a problem to begin with. ("Hey, honey, what's that outlined yellow thing on the screen? Is it some kind of cartoon human? Did somebody just die on the football field after Vinatieri's failed kick? Is that why it's outlined like a crimse scene?" Thud.)

I'm sure they'll figure it all out. Then if we can get Ford to merge with Hyundai and the folks at FLIR, we'll be all set.

Cruise the Internet, channel cruise AT&T, and the car will let you know if I or anyone else is in your path. And presumably, you will be alert enough to respond to the alert.

We are, of course, cruising in the direction of auto-auto pilot. Which may not be such a bad thing, given how crazy and dangerous driving can be.

"Maybe 15 years from now, cars will drive themselves. That's certainly a goal some companies have," said Jay James of FLIR Systems. "It's not just 'Jetsons' stuff now. It's really starting to happen."

Ah! You won't even need a human onboard. That Escalade can be programmed to pick up Chloe and Trip.

As long as they have the heat seeker turned on, and it spots me stepping off the corner in time to stop, I'm down with that.

So in-car computing?

Bring it on!

My inner Luddite can just go back to fretting about things like end of books. Or the end of real food. Or whether that little eye on the lid of my laptop will be spying on me and sending my every blink and grimace over to Homeland Security.

Now those are worries worthy of a Luddite, inner or outer.

 

5 comments:

John said...

I'm in the middle of reading "Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt, which is about driving and why we drive the way we do. One of the points he makes (with lots of research to back it up) is that driving is the hardest thing most of us ever do - requiring us to attend to massive amounts of data and make lots of lots of decisions - and even with nothing more than an AM radio (remember those days), it's a very very challenging task for a human brain.

Which only makes me think that that the technological wonders being shows at CES are likely to lead to more deaths on the highway.

But, I suppose, we'll be able to follow the carnage on Twitter!

katrog said...

Last year on a vacation we rented a Prius. After riding in it a while, I realized why most of the Priuses I had encountered seemed to be driven in an extremely erratic manner--random slowing down in the left lane, for example. It's because you can set the screen to display graphs of your moment-to-moment gas mileage--and all those Prius drivers were gaming it, presumably so they could boast about their most excellent gas mileage.

I agree that all these on-board entertainment and distraction devices bode very ill for traffic safety. I'm glad I live somewhere where I can walk most places on lightly traveled streets.

Most of the doofuses using these things are already so narcissistic that they can't possibly imagine that these devices could impair their already head-up-the-butt driving. (And I agree that the worst offenders are the SUV-wielding uber-moms who seem to have phones surgically embedded in their paws.) My only hope is that when they crash they only take out themselves.

It's possible that over time the very much younger generation will adapt to the multi-tasking with neural re-wiring, but in the meantime, watch out that you aren't outlined in yellow on someone's dashboard.

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Anonymous said...

well i will see how the carnage goes in twitter.

car games

motorcycle games said...

wow , i didnt know driving involves so much brain action.