Edition: March 2012 - Vol 20 Number 03
Auto buying tool
Available on the Apple iPhone, AAA’s new Auto Buying Tools app is said to give consumers the ability to modify car details in real-time and refresh pricing data on the showroom floor. Features of the app include: 1) search new cars by make/model, style and list price (MSRP); 2) build an “ideal” car, down to color and trim; 3) features, specs, and crash safety ratings; 4) AAA vehicle reviews and car buying services; 5) VIN number entry for quick, exact specifications; 6) save searches and cars to favorites; 7) share car details on Facebook, Twitter or e-mail; 8) compare two customized vehicles. AAA’s Auto Buying Tools app is the fifth from AAA.
Attacking wind noise
Ford says it has reduced wind noise in the new Ford Escape by using an elliptical acoustic mirror to measure noise. The mirror is like a satellite dish with a microphone placed a short distance from the Escape, traversing it lengthwise to collect sound. The mirror is said to identify “hot spots” where noise penetrates the interior of the vehicle, allowing drivers to listen to music or conversation inside the car instead of external noises. The technology is deployed more commonly by European luxury vehicle manufacturers and is considered a breakthrough among U.S. manufacturers, says the car company.
Beat the Traffic®, a provider of real-time traffic information for broadcast media and mobile devices, exhibited the latest version of its iPhone app at the recent Macworld 2012 Conference & Expo. Available for free for the iPhone and iPad, Beat the Traffic lets travelers instantly view real-time traffic conditions – including accidents, traffic congestion and roadwork delays – and adjust their travel plans if necessary. Recently updated with new interactive maps and additional surface street details, Beat the Traffic also lets motorists retrieve travel times and live camera views. More tools, such as personalized traffic reports and saved routes, are available for a subscription fee.
Devices save drowsy and inattentive drivers
At the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Ford Motor Company featured a tracking system that can help prevent drowsy or inattentive drivers from wandering out of their lane. While similar technology has previously been offered on some automobiles, the Fusion would be the first affordable non-luxury vehicle to offer this type of system, according to the company. The Fusion’s Lane Keeping System monitors the vehicle’s position with a windshield-mounted digital camera, which can track lane markings. If the car drifts close to the edge of the lane without the turn signal on, the driver will be notified by a vibration in the steering wheel, which feels much like the pulsing caused by rumble strips in the road. A system that Ford calls Lane Keeping Aid can steer the car back toward the center of the lane if the driver doesn’t respond to the warning. If the Lane Keeping System calculates that the driving pattern over a period of time suggests that the driver is drowsy, a chime sounds and a coffee cup icon warning appears on the instrument panel. If the driver continues to nap, a second chime is issued. The system must be turned on by the driver, who can choose to employ just the alert function without the steering assist. The intensity of the warnings is also selected by the driver. The switched-on system becomes active at speeds over 40 mph when lane markings are visible.
Streaming music apps more commonplace
In the not-too-distant future, a car with a radio that receives only AM or FM will qualify as an antique, according to the Wall Street Journal. Internet radio service Pandora Media Inc. has deals with nearly two dozen major auto makers, including BMW and Hyundai, to adapt its streaming-music app to allow consumers to create or call up personalized music channels on the road. Rival streaming radio services such as Stitcher, TuneIn and National Public Radio are also said to be scrapping for space on dashboard displays.
Germany’s Audi is equipping new models with wireless modems that can transmit data roughly as fast as a standard cable modem, according to the Wall Street Journal. Essentially, the car becomes a Wi-Fi hot spot, allowing the company to provide Google Earth maps to navigation systems, and allowing passengers to get online with Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets. Audi pays the first six months, and it’s about $25 a month afterwards.
More apps, more distractions
Ford’s Sync App Link, Mercedes-Benz’s forthcoming DriveStyle app and BMW ConnectedDrive have slight differences in execution, but the purpose is the same – importing apps and content from a smartphone into the car’s displays and controls, according to a recent report in the New York Times. But adding technology that brings the online world into a car’s cockpit increases the risk that a driver
will become distracted. The National Transportation Safety Board has joined safety organizations in calling for bans on cell phone use while driving. The auto industry’s response is to use other technologies to try to reduce that risk. For example, today’s cars can maintain a set distance from the car in front of it and apply mild corrective steering to keep a car in its lane. They can also automatically adjust the headlights and determine if drivers are drowsy and then sound an alarm to awaken them. Automakers acknowledge that the foundations are already in place for cars that, one day, may drive themselves. At that point, the issue of distraction is substantially reduced.