Tag: Gizmology

By on September 30, 2011

Quick, what’s the point of having a navigation system in your car? To get where you want to be going, right? Well, IBM has another idea: maybe instead of taking you where you want to go, navigation systems should be offering to take you where a paying advertiser wants you to go. Say, right past their shop, for example. Popular Science quotes from one of IBM’s patent applications

Conventional route planning systems determine optimal routes based on different preferred conditions, including minimizing travel time or minimizing the distance traveled. By focusing on optimal route determination, the known route planning systems fail to consider non-optimal routes whose presentation to travelers may have value to other parties.

So, it’s not quite to the point of your nav system saying “I can’t let you not pass a Starbucks, Dave,” but in the future your navigation could strongly suggest that, rather than going to the farmer’s market, you stop by the supermarket that happens to pay IBM the most.

(Read More…)

By on September 27, 2011

Under attack from privacy advocates and US Senators, Onstar will be dropping plans to automatically track vehicles that are not subscribed to its service, and will make post-cancellation tracking an opt-in option, rather than opt-out. A GM statement reads:

DETROIT – OnStar announced today it is reversing its proposed Terms and Conditions policy changes and will not keep a data connection to customers’ vehicles after the OnStar service is canceled.

OnStar recently sent e-mails to customers telling them that effective Dec. 1, their service would change so that data from a customer vehicle would continue to be transmitted to OnStar after service was canceled – unless the customer asked for it to be shut off.

“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” OnStar President Linda Marshall said. “This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers’ hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our more than 6 million customers.”

If OnStar ever offers the option of a data connection after cancellation, it would only be when a customer opted-in, Marshall said. And then OnStar would honor customers’ preferences about how data from that connection is treated.

Maintaining the data connection would have allowed OnStar to provide former customers with urgent information about natural disasters and recalls affecting their vehicles even after canceling their service. It also would have helped in planning future services, Marshall said.

“We regret any confusion or concern we may have caused,” Marshall said.

By on September 24, 2011

Concerns over privacy have haunted GM’s OnStar business for as long as it’s been around, and responses like this video have become something of an annual routine for OnStar’s executives. The latest round of furor involves changes to OnStar’s policies, which the New York Times describes thusly

The first regards what happens when a customer cancels the service. Until now, when OnStar service stopped, so did the vehicle’s two-way communications system. As of Dec. 1, however, that will not necessarily be the case. Vehicles of owners who no longer subscribe could still be monitored via the system’s still-active two-way cellular link.

The second policy change concerns the potential use of the data collected by OnStar, which includes information like the vehicle’s speed and location, current odometer reading, driver seat-belt use and air-bag deployment. Under the new terms, OnStar reserves the right to share that information with other companies and organizations, even data culled from motorists who no longer subscribe to the service but who have left the two-way communications connection open.

Of course, OnStar says GM customers can opt out of the service, but it’s making the case that by only sharing anonymous data, it can limit meaningful privacy concerns. But OnStar doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and as it continues to sell Americans on the notion that security is worth sacrificing some sense of privacy for, it will find itself increasingly pulled into a national debate.
(Read More…)

By on September 16, 2011

Cars have lost a lot since the 1990’s. How many of you remember ashtrays, crank windows, base AM/FM radios and motorized seatbelts? It used to be that little headlight wipers were a sure sign of an upscale ride along with glossy wood trim and a CD changer in the trunk. It was a Yuppie heaven back then.

You wanted good music? Gotta get at least a cassette player and why not throw in some flimsy cupholders that are just big enough for a twelve ounce Coke?

A lot has gone away since the days of Cadillac Allantes and Chrysler Imperials. But much more remains with us. Today’s cars have a ton of 1990’s luxuries as standard equipment: Cruise, ABS, Traction Control, CD Players, Keyless Entry and Anti-theft Alarm Systems. Even the once lauded ‘Power Package’ of power windows, door locks, and mirrors is now standard in all but the cheapest of models (and the Lotus Elise).

So today’s questions for the TTAC faithful are, “What Should Stay?” and “What Should Go?” in these next ten years. Should nav systems be integrated into our cell phones? Will CD’s offer as poor of a return for the audiophile as they already do at the bank? That one’s an easy answer. But what about CVT’s vs. conventional automatics? Eight cylinders vs. sixes? Push buttons vs. key fobs vs.???

The future isn’t now. So give your best guess.

By on September 15, 2011

[Ed: The above video is not intended as a specific example of the problems we faced, but a general illustration of the wider issue]

While on a junket for the Hyundai Veloster I was treated to yet another instance of The Most Infuriating Thing About New Cars – the lack of any decent way to connect your iPod to the in-car entertainment system.

As TTAC Editor-In-Chief Ed Niedermeyer and I toured Oregon’s various scenic byways in the newest Hyundai, our musical selections were repeatedly interrupted due various errors, whereby Ed’s iPhone was unable to sync, refused to completely sync, or randomly re-synced. Our attempts at listening to the new Bon Iver album, or Burn After Rolling (the listenable mixtape made by limp-dick rapper Wiz Khalifa) were interrupted by a blast from XM’s pop station, as the iPod integration took a giant shit on us. Nothing spoils the conversation like having your ambient rock or gangsta rap interrupted by Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.

(Read More…)

By on August 1, 2011

GM’s Onstar division has long raised privacy concerns among the professionally paranoid, but now it’s putting all that observational power into the hands of consumers, with a pilot program called “Family Link.”  Described in GM’s presser as “a new optional service that will explore ways subscribers can stay connected to their loved ones,” the service includes

  • Vehicle Locate: The subscriber can log on to the Family Link website to view a map with the vehicle’s exact location at any time.
  • Vehicle Location Alert: Subscribers can set up email or text message notifications to let them know the location of their loved one’s vehicle. They can choose the day, time and frequency of the alerts.

But that’s not all: if the pilot proves that consumers are willing to pay for the right to surveil their loved ones,

Future considerations for the pilot include Speed Alert, Boundary Alert and Arrival/Departure Alert.

Forget Big Brother… with this system, you can be Big Daddy, in the center of your own little family-sized panopticon. From making sure the kids stay out of trouble (“Say, son, what were you doing in downtown Detroit last night?”) to checking up on your loving spouse (“Honey, why did you say you were going to the gym, when you just parked for an hour at the Slee-Zee Snooze Motel?”), it’s how today’s on-the-go families foster an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust. Because why let the government have all the voyeuristic fun?

By on July 28, 2011

Former TVR owner Peter Wheeler used to explain the lack of airbags in his firm’s high-powered sportscars by arguing drivers would be safer if he installed a metal spike in the middle of each steering wheel. That was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s… since then, the rise of adaptive cruise control, “attention assist” systems, collision-sensing brake pre-loading and more have only made his critique all the more provocative. And, according to research cited in a Wired Magazine report, Wheeler’s philosophy seems to have a strong basis in science.

“The point the automakers are making, which is true, is that they go to extreme lengths to make these systems work and extremely reliable,” [Stanford University’s Clifford] Nass said. “The reliability on these systems is very high. If you have automatic cruise control, it’s not extremely often you have to jump into the fray.”

Therein lies the problem. We come to count on our cars to keep us out of trouble, even in situations where the technology isn’t designed to.

“Road hazards other than the car in front of you are so rare, especially on the highway where these adaptive cruise control systems would be in play, that they would, over time, encourage a complacency that undermines safety,” said Erik Blaser, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who studies vision and perception. “You stop paying attention to the driving.”

Though these “semiautonomous” systems are sold as safety equipment, researchers argue that they create a sense of reliance that actually makes drivers less safe (unlike “secret” safety systems like stability control and ABS, which operate consistently without the driver’s knowledge). And, somewhat counterintuitively, these researchers argue that the rise of semiautonomous driver aids actually increases the need for life-long driver eduation.

(Read More…)

By on July 26, 2011

In addition to the recent tales (and sitcom gags) of GPS units leading hapless drivers into bodies of water, we have a new twist on the theme: GPS units leading hapless drivers astray in Death Valley. NPR reports

After a long day, [Donna] Cooper and her family asked “Nell,” the GPS, for the shortest route back to their home.

“Please proceed to the highlighted route,” Nell said.

But what came next did not compute. The GPS told them to go 550 feet, then turn right, Cooper says.

“Well, at 550 feet it was like a little path, and then it was like, go a quarter of a mile and turn left. There was nothing there. She had me running in circles for hours and hours and hours,” she says.

A park ranger explains that this happens “a couple times a year now,” including one incident two years ago in which a mother and her son were lost on an abandoned mining road for five days and the boy died. Rangers are now working with GPS firms to update their data on small and closed-down roads, but say no amount of work will ever replace common sense when it comes to navigating desert roads. Speaking of which, what happened to Cooper’s family?
(Read More…)

By on July 12, 2011

Transportation Secretary and Supreme Allied Commander in the War On Distraction Ray LaHood is quite chuffed about initial pilot program results for his latest offensive against in-car cell phone use, and he’s taking to the airwaves to declare victory. The programs, modeled on the “Click It Or Ticket” and “Over The Limit, Under Arrest” initiatives combined an advertising blitz and waves of enforcement to crack down on the behavior, but more importantly to send the message that distracted driving is as serious a problem as drunk driving or not wearing a seatbelt. Thanks to the relative success of these earlier programs, the DOT has a strong template for its pilot anti-distracted driving campaign, the enforcement components of which took place in April, July, and October 2010 and March-April 2011. But was the “Phone In One Hand, Ticket In The Other” program actually as successful as LaHood claims?
(Read More…)

By on June 22, 2011

Ford’s President of the Americas Mark “MKF” Fields (sorry, the joke is just too funny to let go of) is responding to recent allegations of slipping quality by Consumer Reports and JD Power, by telling Bloomberg that

We’re largely back on track on some of these early issues

He’s referring specifically to issues with the MyFordTouch system that has been the central issue in the recent quality flap, and the fix for that isn’t particularly complicated.

Ford has reworked software on MyFordTouch to prevent random rebooting that had afflicted the system, said Sue Cischke, vice president of environmental and safety engineering. The touch controls also have been recalibrated to respond more quickly to a driver’s touch, she said.

Ford is encouraging dealers to spend as much as 40 minutes training drivers to use the system.

“If you’re trying to figure it out as you’re driving, obviously that’s not a good thing to do,” Cischke said.

Ford’s problem, it turns out, isn’t so much a product quality problem as a customer quality problem… because why would consumers need 40 minutes of training on a system Ford insists they are “demanding” (despite, it must be pointed out, the government’s murmured objections)? Unfortunately for Ford, Michael Karesh argues convincingly that Ford’s quality problems go beyond the MyFordTouch issues… but because its quality was so weak before Mulally took over, at least Ford (and the “PR friendly” auto media) can continue to claim “improvement.”

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