August 28, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Are drivers ready for high-tech onslaught?

Are drivers ready for high-tech onslaught?
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Self-parking, auto-braking, always-connected cars will soon be the norm as James Bond-like high-tech gear trickles down from luxury models to budget rides in 2008.

On tap from BMW, Mercedes, GM, Lexus and others are a wide range of high-tech navigation systems, parking assistance features, touch-screen displays, Bluetooth communications and other developments, as human control of mundane--and not-so mundane--systems is being rapidly ceded to automation.

But without one's own personal Q to explain how each gadget works, how much new tech is too much for the average consumer to handle?

"A lot of it is beneficial...But it can be confusing and in the automobile, that's a safety threat," said Don Norman, professor at Northwestern University, author of The Design of Future Things and co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, a company that consults with major manufacturers on the design of everything from Web sites to car computers.

Norman and others say automakers have their work cut out for them in teaching drivers how to best use these new tools. And then there's the user interface: Forget about familiar personal computer-like displays. Many advanced systems being placed in cars require no-peek coordination.

The more difficult task might be convincing people that a computer can read a map, place phone calls, apply brakes, mind the blind spot, stay in the right lane and maintain a safe driving distance from the next car better than the average driver.

Car tech

It's a change that will affect the entire driving world.

"Lots of people, including myself, used to say people shouldn't adapt to tech, tech should adapt to people. But now I look at it and say, 'We are making tech to be used by everyone across the world. The stove is the same in all cultures despite the fact that the cooking is different," said Norman.

Regardless of consumer trepidation, the computerized car has arrived not only for behind-the-scenes mechanics, but for driver interaction as well. As one CNET News.com reader put it: "This'll certainly give new meanings to 'blue screen of death' and your computer 'crashing."

Perhaps the best indication that the car-as-computer has "arrived" is GM's CEO Rick Wagoner being added as a keynote speaker for January's 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show alongside technology leaders like Bill Gates, Intel's Paul Otelleni and Panasonic's Toshihiro Sakamoto.

In a Telematics Research Group review (PDF) of 2008 car models, 70 percent have voice-activated Bluetooth communication capability and 80 percent offer navigation systems as either options or standard equipment.

"Any safety tech based on sensors will also become very popular...They are relatively inexpensive for the OEM to implement since the components have come down way low in price. And they also have value for the customer," said Phil Magney, co-founder and principal analyst of Telematics Research Group.

It's amazing how much of this is designed by engineers who have no real understanding of the way average, everyday people behave.
--Don Norman,
design expert

Drivers can expect to see things like parking assistance, blind spot detection, lane departure warning systems and adaptive cruise control trickle down to non-luxury models very soon, said Magney.

Already, 60 percent of 2008 models offer a parking assistance feature with audible warnings, and about a third offer camera-based versions that include a live video feed to a dashboard screen to give drivers a better view of nearby objects.

Other features could be harder for drivers to master. Norman, in his book, relates a story about a driver who's forgotten that his car is in adaptive cruise control, which allows a car to self-regulate speed and maintain a safe distance from the next car. After sitting in traffic for some time, the driver exits from the highway. The car, sensing there is no longer traffic immediately in front of it, speeds up to highway speed on the curvy exit ramp forcing the driver to slam on his brakes.

"It's amazing how much of this is designed by engineers who have no real understanding of the way average, everyday people behave. If you talk to the people who deploy these cars, they say it's meant to assist, not be relied on (for preventing accidents). The drivers are not going to understand that distinction," said Norman.

Thomas Plucinsky, BMW product and technology communications manager, disagrees with Norman's assertion that it's the automakers' job to anticipate misuse of a feature like adaptive cruise control.

"Our new adaptive cruise control...(is) really meant as an aid on the highway. Our intention is not to drive the car for the driver. It remains the driver's responsibility to keep their eyes on the road and keep control of the car," he said.

BMW's opinion is significant as it is a leader in high-tech car innovation and will likely drive new features into the market. The Telematics Research Group named BMW the maker of "the most technologically advanced vehicle in the world" based on the company's 2008 5-series vehicles.

BMW also knows the pain of being on the bleeding edge of new technology. It's iDrive system, which was introduced for the 2002 BMW 7-series, works similarly to an iPod click wheel in that a mechanical knob is used to maneuver around a dashboard-mounted LCD screen to control things like air conditioning and heating, navigation systems, communications and other features.

CONTINUED: Technology ahead of its time…
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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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