August 28, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Are drivers ready for high-tech onslaught?

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The impetus behind the iDrive--now on all BMW 7-, 5- and 3-series cars--is to provide drivers with one control to direct a multitude of functions while barely taking their eyes off the road. The screen is even placed high on the center dash so when drivers must glance at it, the road is still within their peripheral vision, according to Plucinsky.

Initially, however, iDrive was roundly criticized as being too hard to learn and a distraction for drivers, spawning derisive nicknames like "iCrash". "Look at BMW with the iDrive. It was crazy, just crazy. Disaster. You could customize everything. You could customize up to something like 700 variables," said Norman.

But BMW stood by iDrive, refining it and redesigning the interface in 2005. "Because we were the pioneer, we came out with something that was a little too complicated for the first customer it was introduced to," said Plucinsky.

BMW's pain has paved the way for other makers to introduce further automation into their lineups. Volkswagen, for instance, sees car computer controls evolving in a different direction.

"You're going to have a conversation with your vehicle, like you would with a person. The last thing you want to do is drive and push a bunch of buttons. If you can manage--not through voice commands and keywords, but through natural speech--that will be the most effective way to manage the information that's in your vehicle," said Frank Weith, technical strategy manager for Volkswagen of America

"You have voice activation now and that will improve. As that becomes more robust, I think you'll see more OEMs integrating that into their HMIs (human-machine interfaces)," he said.

Weith also sees communication technology as playing a larger role in expanding what a car can offer.

For example, hands-free Bluetooth cell phone connectivity is not just a reaction to cell phone safety laws bound to be passed at the state level, said Weith. They are a first step toward cars communicating with the outside world in real time.

For drivers to use navigation systems beyond the occasional rental car, carmakers are going to have to offer something more than static maps and directions. Real-time traffic info could be the deciding factor in choosing one route over another, as well as a selling point for navigation data packages, said Weith.

"Long term is where every car sends a signal and you now have a dynamic organization that's giving traffic information as it happens. But that's down the road...2013 or 2015," he said.

Still, the best technology won't be adopted unless drivers accept new features in the way they drive, said Plucinsky, Weith and Norman.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, one potential danger may come not in how drivers control these new high-tech features or how they are fed information, but in the psychological effect of a gadget's success. As car safety devices successfully prevent accidents, people may begin to think they don't need them and shut them off because they think they're a nuisance. Norman compares it to an organ transplant patient who feels completely healthy and, therefore, stops taking his medicine.

Nissan recently introduced a concept car that uplifts the gas pedal as an initial warning then automatically brakes for the driver if she begins to lift her foot off the gas as part of a collision warning system.

"Your car brakes suddenly...if the car doesn't crash, but causes internal damage you'll think, yeah, there was some danger, but you (the car) overreacted," said Norman.

Automakers disagree on the value of such a feature. "We want the driver to be involved with the driving. We would not introduce a system to self brake. The best way to avoid an accident is not just to brake, but to steer around the obstacle," said BMW's Plucinsky.

"We don't want cars to drive themselves. That is the antithesis of BMW. For us, the tech should enhance the driving experience," said Plucinsky.

Volkswagen seems to agree.

"You have to figure out how to balance the technology from the distractions. It boils down to cost to the consumer. You don't want to burden them with an unwieldy high-costing system, whether they will be smart devices or dumb devices that are fed info," said VW's Weith.

Whether driving or partially driving, there's one thing all drivers will have to adapt to as cars become more automated, said Norman.

"If the car is in control, it will not break the traffic laws or...speed limits. And you will have an angry driver trying to say, 'But, I'm in a rush. I need to get there,'" he said.

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18 comments

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"We don't want cars to drive themselves"
Is the sub-text here, "We don't want the legal liability of cars
driving themselves"? If the car's system did most of the driving,
including accident avoidance and then failed to perform properly,
due to say a software bug, then who would be liable for the
damages in any accident?
Posted by rwmarejka (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Bluetooth
I use a Bluetooth aftermarket car kit in my car and it is extremely useful. I knew it was only a matter of time that Bluetooth would become standard in automobiles. Most of my friends don't even know what Bluetooth really is yet. I usually point them to this site:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.bluetomorrow.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.bluetomorrow.com</a>
Posted by shirsc2 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yea
I have a 2004 Nissan Maxima. As nice as it is it didn't come with features you can find on low end cars now like blue tooth and AUX jack. Two things I could really use.
Posted by nmcphers (261 comments )
Link Flag
I like that my car helps me drive
My 2004 Infiniti M45 has adaptive cruise control and braking assitance for imminent collisions. It uses front mounted lasar radar for both. I find it works fairly well and helps me drive my car more safely. The adaptive cruise control allows the car to apply 25% braking to slow more quickly than just zero throttle if it needs to. With the way some people drive here in Southern California, I have even experienced the proximity alarm going off when a car cut in close in front of me. I know if the car had control of this, it likely would have braked, but luckily, Nissan had the good sense to let me do the driving. These systems are helpful, and I can also see that in the hands of some of the ignorant savages I see driving around, are not for everybody. For them, a '74 Pinto is just right.
Posted by Crunchy Doodle (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Other points.
I am a proponent of FLW's "form follows function." I'm not at all against appropriate new technology of any kind as long it solves more problems than it creates for the majority of its consumers. While the article implied it did not emphasize sufficiently - that current automated automotive driving technology is computer geek driven rather than auto consumer driven. Working backwards from consumer needs and desires has generally been a historic problem in the computer development industry (computer geeks see the consumer in their own image - rather than simple tool users) and now the same failed approach has infected the auto industry as digital technology becomes feasible for autos.

The other driving factor pushing the computer take over of driving is that the computer market has already demonstrated that computer (software and hardware) consumers will accept a product life of 1-3 years. You can see the auto execs salivating over a car that's dead or digitally obsolete in 2-3 years - or a chain of income producing mandatory software updates. Just can't wait to see this mess unfold.
Posted by duggerdm (103 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Adding toys would help the real problem!
Automotive manufacturers need to concentrate on getting vehicle efficient, reliable and longevity so the family use their meger wages for raising the children. Way too much money is being wasted on these throw away vehicles. So far one has achieved this. Now they think adding bells and whistles gizt and glitter will is the answer. Up scale is because the profits are higher for the management team, nothing about a quality product. Marketing does fine jobs of selling promises and so so products. All this is doing forcing more and more people to keep driving junk.
They keep re-inventing the automobile over and over,---keep the bean-counters out of engineering would help immensely.
Posted by natebooh (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OOPS
WON'T
Posted by natebooh (3 comments )
Link Flag
High-tech = high cost repair
I don't want high-tech features in my car because it eventually breaks. At that point I'm stuck with a high-cost repair or deal with a high-cost feature that no longer works. One situation drains the wallet, the other drains the attractiveness and emotional connection to the car. Both situations are highly frustrating. Give me analog or decades-proven technology! It works for a long, long time, is easy and inexpensive to fix/replace, and it just feels good when something keeps on working and working.
Posted by mail man dave (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Costly electronic repairs
Recently I had an electrical problem with my 2004 Mazda 3; it
made it impossible to turn off the headlights. It took several
days for the required replacement part to arrive so, until it did, I
had to carry a wrench to disconnect the battery every time I
parked. When the part arrived, it took a technecian 4 hours to
install it. Fortunately it was covered by warranty but, at
probably about $60 per hour, the labor alone would have cost
me about $240 had it not been covered by warranty. If the car
had been made before 1970, it could probably have been fixed
in less than 1/2 hour.

As cars become more complicated, repair costs can be expected
to increase dramatically. A repair that in the 1960s would have
taken perhaps half an hour to fix could take a day or more, and
the cost of parts required could be astronomical.

Although I'm not opposed to new technology in principal, we
have to be aware of the problems it causes. Repairs could
become so costly that an electronic failure on a 5 year old car
would be so expensive to fix that the car would be scrapped
even if mechanically it was in good condition and would provide
reliable transportation for another 10 years.
Posted by FRE0 (66 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just wait
"If the car is in control, it will not break the traffic laws or...speed limits. And you will have an angry driver trying to say, 'But, I'm in a rush. I need to get there,'" he said. "

That is exactly what is planned down the road "for the good of the masses". The Brits are working on it now, tying GPS into mapping databases and the vehicle's operating systems. It's not even a technological issue anymore, merely a political one and the control freaks that run governments are salivating at the thought of being able to control and monitor people's driving habits.
Posted by vintagemxr (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
How about some usefull tech
Like electronically controlled valve operation, imagine how much
more power you could get without having a fixed cam profile.

Or electronically controlled intake runners. With a full electronic
valve cycle, you could also implement a variable Miller cycle
engine, which pulls less cylinder volume under light load, and
large amounts under heavy load. You could double power
output, and cut fuel consumption by half.

Stop wasting time and money developing useless gadgets, and
work on what matters, the power train.
Posted by andysomo (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You have to wonder how reliable it will be.
I've always thought that if we had computer controlled cars they'd do things like refuse to make certain turns at certain intersections for absolutely no reason that anybody could figure out.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sleeping drivers.
As it is, many drivers wait more than a second after a light turns from red to green. If you make a car too easy to drive, people will and do fall asleep at the wheel. get rid of cruse control. If you want, the driver can set an audio alarm if the car goes above or below a set speed by more than 2 MPH, but the driver is the one that steps on or of the gas.

Make ABS breaking systems something that a driver can turn off. A skilled driver with good reflexes has better reactions than an ABS system. Sometimes an ABS system does what the driver does not want.

Encourage standard transmissions over automatics. A good driver has far more control of a standard. I can understand use of an automatic transmission if a person is disabled.

Limit the amount of power steering a car has (If you can't feel the road, you are not in control of your car.

It is a good thing for the car to provide more information to the driver. It is a very bad thing for the car to make decisions for the driver.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sleeping drivers.
Awe - come on. Who wouldn't want a car you could get into the bach seat and tell it to drive you home. It's just what is needed for those nihts when you've had too much to drink.
Posted by willdryden (271 comments )
Link Flag
Great!
Here are some tips on how you can buy and have a quality used car, so as you would not be replacing unnecessary parts along the way...Hope, this might help...
Tips &#38; Warning
? As a final precaution, take the car to a mechanic, who should charge a reasonable fee to check over a used car. The seller should agree to this, but may require that you leave a deposit. If the seller won't let you take the car, offer to meet him or her at a mutually convenient garage.
? If you give the seller a deposit in order to take the car to have it checked, make sure to write out an agreement stating that the deposit will be returned immediately if you decide not to buy the car.
If the vehicle's mileage appears unusually low, have a mechanic determine whether someone has tampered with the odometer. If so, the seller must refund any money you have paid and may be liable for punitive damages under federal and state odometer laws?
This is how I acquire my car; I inspected all its auto parts from exterior and interior aspect down to its <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.aftermarketperformanceparts.com/nissan-altima-performance-parts.html" target="_newWindow">nissan altima performance parts</a> and other accessories. By doing so, you could be sure of the quality of vehicle you are getting?=)
Posted by angelfast (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Computer-controlled plus Bluetooth Equals Hacked & Highway disasters
If a car was computer-controlled in a moderate way, like for brakes and accelerator,and if the BlueTooth (BT) WPAN communications gets also integrated also, and thereby linked through a series of circuits equals able to be hacked. For cars with that, with an operating system of sorts, the same system can be hacked by people with good BT hacking skills. There are people who will try to hack other people's cars just to see if they can, and some will do so, to be able to wreak havoc on others to be evil. With directional long-range antennas, a person can hack a BT-enabled phone from up to a mile away. If the BT-antenna was set in a car, and with a laptop in there too, a person could potentially remote control someone else's car to accelerate and brake on command or more. Lawyers and insurance companies would have a field day with all of these possibilities. Those are just a few of the worst possibilities of problems if BT was closer integrated with a car's computer systems.
Posted by ghostridermn1 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ABS
"Make ABS breaking systems something that a driver can turn
off. A skilled driver with good reflexes has better reactions than
an ABS system. Sometimes an ABS system does what the driver
does not want."

Good idea. And have 4 brake pedals, one for each brake, so that
the driver can control each brake as needed to prevent a wheel
from locking he way ABS does. The writer of the above post may
believe that he can do as well as the ABS computer, but I have no
such illusions about my ability.
Posted by FRE0 (66 comments )
Link Flag
This can be done with the OBDKey USB, Bluetooth and WiFi units. (http://www.obdkey.com)
Posted by ecudev (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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