Here at TopSpeed, we give you the rundown on some pretty expensive equipment. Whether it is a Ferrari , Maserati , Ford or Fiat , all these things cost money. We know caring for that new rig can be nerve-racking with all the rogue shopping carts and distracted drivers looming inches away – not to mention the jealous thieves who’d love to help themselves to your new 911 .
That’s why our eyes popped wide when we saw the latest product from Globalstar, Inc.: the SPOT Trace. It’s a GPS-based tracking device wrapped in a small but tough box designed to be hidden within anything valuable, like a car, ATV, motorcycle or boat.
The SPOT Trace uses GPS signals to monitor any movement, even down to vibrations, of whatever the device is secured to. Any movement can be automatically sent to a cell phone, via email or text message, to alert of possible theft. The SPOT Trace also has a dock mode for monitoring boats moored in harbor.
Users can set their preferences to receive updates in 2.5, 5, 10, 30, or 60-minute intervals. They can also view their asset’s location 24/7 in real time on Google Maps. Even if the thief tries to flee internationally, the GPS tracker will follow the SPOT Trace almost anywhere in the world. And with an 18-month battery life, the thief’s chances of keeping his loot are dramatically slim.
Perhaps the SPOT Trace’s best feature is its affordability. The unit itself only runs $99 and the yearly GPS subscription costs the same. A hundred bucks seems like a real bargain for some peace of mind knowing that your $100,000 Porsche or $1.5 million yacht is right where you parked it.
Click past the jump to read the press release about the SPOT Trace GPS tracker
Google glass is still in its beta testing phase and you can only get one for testing purposes in special cases. In fact, yours truly has applied to receive one to see just how distracting it is while driving, but chances are I’ll never get my hands on one. On the surface, Google Glass looks like an awesome advancement in communication and entertainment, but when we dig a little deeper, some big issues arise.
We love automotive technology here at Topspeed, but at some point technology becomes distracting and Google Glass is right at that boundary. What makes matters worse is that several automakers are looking to integrate Google Glass into their navigation and infotainment system, with the latest being Mercedes-Benz . The problem becomes the fact that while this looks like an easier and safer way to transmit information to drivers, it actually poses some serious safety concerns.
First and foremost, Google Glass displays the information directly in front of one of your eyes, which is very distracting. Another downfall that is well documented is the fact that the prism that displays the information is reportedly "faint," making it tough to see the display in natural light — what we drive in the majority of the time. This could result in a user focusing too much on the screen and not the traffic in front of them, ending in a crash.
Additionally, sudden movements, like bumps on a road, can cause the device to slide down your nose, which causes the faintness of the screen to become worse until the user adjusts it. This could result in the user repeatedly adjusting it, leading to even more distractions.
Lastly, with so many drivers already breaking the cell phone- and video-use laws while driving, do we really need a screen sitting directly in front of the driver? Also, is having a navi screen directly in front of your eyes instead of in you peripheral vision really that much more convenient? The answer to both questions is a "no" in my opinion...
Sure, this is all up for debate and Google Glass is still in beta phase, so things may change when it rolls out in production form. However, unless Google makes some serious safety changes to the existing Glass, I think the NHTSA may want to take a close look at banning its use while driving nationwide, bypassing the state-by-state issues we have on cell phone use.
When Apple released the first bits of information on the iOS in the Car system just yesterday, we saw a long list of premium automakers that have already signed up, like Mercedes and Jaguar . One that was not on the list that we figured was just hung up in the details was BMW . Well, a new report tells us that there was more to Bimmer not being on the list than meets the eye.
A BMW spokesperson said "The upshot is that as we have such an advanced multimedia offer that has been in vehicles in various guises for more than a decade, it would not be that straight forward to start changing all of the architecture of a car as has been implied [by Apple]." So, basically, the changes that BMW would have to make to crowbar in the new Apple system would be way too great to warrant installing the iOS in the Car system.
BMW and Apple have worked together in the past, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that the Bavarian automaker will not support the system for the foreseeable future. Fortunately for Bimmer drivers, BMW’s interfaces are plenty advanced and have a decade-long track record, so there is no worrying about sticking with an outdated or non-functional system. Additionally, BMW will support Apples new Siri Eyes Free system.
We wouldn’t be too surprised to see Apple work its way into BMW sometime in the next five years, or so, but that may take some massaging of the iOS system to appease BMW. Another good reason for BMW breaking down is if iOS in the Car becomes a smash hit, then it would be doing its buyers a disservice by leaving it out.
As of 2012, for every six PCs sold one Macintosh (AKA “Mac” for you generation Y folks) computer leaves the shelves, not including iPads. While that may seem like a huge gap, that is actually a huge boost over the 56-to-1 ratio of PCs to Macs back in the early 2000s. This is mostly because Macintosh has been marketing to younger generations as the “hip” brand and only us geezers living in the Stone Age still use PCs. It is also partly due to strategic positioning in the market by Mac and hitting niches that PC manufacturers have overlooked.
In the automotive world, however, Mac and PC both have been relatively left out in the cold, as manufacturers have mostly opted for proprietary operating systems for their infotainment systems. This is all about to come to a head in the coming months, as Mac has just announced its new “iOS in the Car” to pair along with its new iOS 7.
The details are still very limited, but Apple has already contracted with list of heavy hitters that includes Mercedes-Benz , Ferrari , Acura , Volvo , Jaguar , Infiniti , Nissan , Chevy , Kia , Opel and Hyundai to roll this new system out. According to reports, this system will link with your iPhone and use a revised Siri system to control GPS, maps, the audio system, hands-free operation, talk-to-text, etc. This system will also use a screen that actually mimics you iPhone’s screen, meaning that the car’s entire OS very well may be a revised version of iOS and not just a simple integration.
This means that Apple will suddenly have a firm grasp on us geezer PC users that happen to buy top-line cars and even some of the entry-level cars, by offering a level of integration that is unseen to date. Additionally, Mac may find a way to integrate laptops and iPads to the system, enticing more premium car buyers to opt for a Mac computer instead of a PC.
Car insurance companies are always trying to find some way to better monitor your driving style and habits to help adjust their premiums accordingly. In fact, yours truly fell for the Progressive scam of plugging a small transmitter into the data port on my Mazdaspeed MX-5 with the promise that I could “save up to 30 percent.” Well, this little gadget sensed every time I tapped the brakes a little too hard or pushed my little turbocharged roadster into a corner just a little harder than usual, then it would beep and upload this information to the company.
Well, after noticing what this gizmo was up to, I quickly unplugged it and overnighted it to Progressive with a thanks-but-no-thanks letter. Well, now more insurance companies are getting into the tracking game with even more technology. In fact, State Farm has taken it a little further by installing an app on your Android 4.0 (or higher) smartphone. According to State Farm this app will collect “basic information about your driving,” but the insurance giant doesn’t offer a bit of info about what it will use this data for.
So, why would you allow your insurance company to track how, when and where you drive? Because they grease your palm, of course; State Farm is offering up a $50 gift card to the first 5,000 volunteers to give up their driving privacy and test the system. In fact, you don’t even have to be a State Farm customer to do this test and get the $50.
We say stay away from this deal and the insurance tracking devices altogether, regardless of how much they choose to offer you in return. Chances are that this information could potentially jack up your car insurance just because you park in a less-than-ideal area semi-frequently or brake a little harder than others. Plus, having your insurance company knowing what you’re up to at any given time is pretty dang scary.
What’s next, health insurance companies strapping devices on us to monitor our food intake and exercise?
So you may have never heard of QNX, but you likely interface with it on a daily basis, given you have a car with a computer-based infotainment system (Toyota Entune, BMW ConnectedDrive, GM’s OnStar, etc.). QNX is essentially to a car what Windows is to a PC – it allows the software and hardware to do their delicate exchange of ones and zeros to turn them into what you see on the screen.
QNX is actually in development of its second-generation operating system, which it has dubbed QNX CAR 2. This may sound like just another small and meaningless software changeover, but CAR 2 will include something that may revolutionize automotive infotainment systems – an HTML 5-based interface.
As it sits now, QNX builds the OS, but the manufacturer works the front end of its software in its own way, leaving the customer out of the equation. The HTML 5 interface will allow the manufacturer to set up the basic functions of the infotainment systems, but ultimately allow you to customize it as you see fit.
Additionally, the usage of HTML 5 will also help lower the gap between consumer electronics and automotive electronics, which currently have a 7- to 10-year gap between product cycles. Heck, your laptop is obsolete before you ever walk out of the store, yet some cars run the same cruddy infotainment systems they did in 2005.
Another huge relief that HTML 5 would bring to the automotive world would be the development of apps. As it stands now, cars are much like the iPhone – you have to buy licensed apps from the app store, which cost loads of money over time. With the introduction of HTML 5, you get the option of more open-source apps, like you do with an Android-based smartphone or tablet. No, we’re not trying to start a Mac vs. Android war; we’re just stating the obvious.
In turn, all of this should – theoretically – make bringing more advanced infotainment systems to the consumer at a lower price.
QNX expects to see CAR 2 start being used sometime in 2013 or 2014. We’ll keep an eye on this and bring you more information as it becomes available.
Check out the above video to see QNX CAR 2 in action, it’s pretty awesome.
On August 31st, the sun spewed a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) that dwarfed the Earth and on September 3rd, it came close enough to Earth to connect with our magnetosphere and cause an Aurora to appear. So what in the world does this have to do with cars? Well, let’s have a look.
In 1859, a huge CME – the last one since, by the way – caused a geomagnetic storm that then caused telegraph systems to fail, shock their operators, and even work while unplugged. Fortunately in those days, they didn’t rely on all of the high-tech things that we do.
Autonomous cars are all the rage lately, as we continue to cover the advances that Google and Cadillac are making in this area. Autonomous cars actually use one of the technologies that Mike Hapgood, a pace weather scientist near Oxford England, says will be hugely affected by a geomagnetic storm of large proportion – GPS.
Imagine if a moderate portion of the cars on the road are using autonomous technology using GPS in some way, like the Google car. People by nature become complacent and comfortable, therefore leading to many of these drivers not paying attention to the road, but instead playing video games, reading the paper, or eating lunch.
If a CME-caused geomagnetic storm should take place and knock out GPS satellites, imagine the massive traffic it would cause, at best. Even worse, it could result in major accidents, should these cars veer off of the road and out of control. That’s a scary possibility that this recent solar flare close call should bring to the forefront. The engineers must devise a backup plan that overrides the GPS part of autonomous driving, should the signal be lost.
This additional engineering process may ultimately delay the public release of these automated cars. If this simply goes by the wayside without any safety measure, besides human intervention, it could cause a serious issue.
Cops in Maryland are quickly cutting down on their time spent running license plates by using what are called automatic license plate readers (ALPR). These nifty devices scan your plates automatically and check for insurance, validity, and other key safety issues. This is all well and good, according to civil liberties watchdog, the ACLU, but what they do with said information has the ACLU up in arms.
The ACLU has growing concerns with how long the information is retained in these ALPRs and worries that this ever-rowing data may eventually allow the government to precisely predict every move you make. So for all of you conspiracy theorists that think the gummament is watchin’ ya, this is just another nugget to keep in your head.
In a released statement, the ACLU says:
“If license plate scans, which are typically stamped with a location, time, and date, were used just for these purposes and deleted shortly thereafter, privacy concerns would be minimal to non-existent. After all, police can run license plates against these databases themselves. ALPR technology simply cuts down on the time and manpower required to perform these functions on a large scale.
The privacy issues arise with the retention of the information. A police officer will not forever remember the exact location and time of an innocent motorist’s travels. With ALPR technology, those details can be stored indefinitely, creating an ever-growing historical record of the daily comings and goings of every Marylander. As ALPRs become more ubiquitous and that record becomes longer and more detailed, it will become possible for the government to determine a person’s exact movements during any given time period.”
However, the police taking records of our license plate activity is one of the more primitive tracking devices that the government has access to in order to track us. There are many more active and precise devices that we all use on a daily basis that allows the government to keep tabs on us.
To see what other devices the government can use to track us, simply click past the jump.
Autonomous driving is on the tips of all of our tongues at any given moment, as it is the most likely “next generation” step in the automotive world. One of the key components of perfecting automated driving is the introduction of car-to-car-to-object communication – communication between cars and traffic-control devices. Think of it as a Facebook for the automotive world. Every car needs to update its status and plans to all of the other cars and the traffic controls “in its network” (in the area), so that they know how to plan accordingly.
Sure automated driving works okay via a series of sensors, but that only allows so much. This social networking allows car to plan routes, avoid traffic, avoid accidents, and so forth, ahead of time. Germany has taking the driver’s seat in this matter, by introducing the Safe Intelligent Mobility – Testfield Germany (sim TD) - which allows controlled testing of these communication systems. Mercedes-Benz is one maker that will provide Germany with cars for this testing program and has now chosen to do some of its own car-to-car-to-object testing at its own facility in Palo Alto, California. During its infancy, this system will utilize the network of cars to sense a line of stopped cars over the peak of a hill or around a blind turn, helping prevent a rear-end collision because the driver and automated sensing devices couldn’t see the stopped cars.
In the long run, this system may end up being the basis that automated driving on a regular basis spawns from. Using sensors alone to eliminate the driver’s need to control a car is pretty dangerous, as the sensors can only see what the human eye can see. This automotive network, on the other hand, allows the car to see things well in advance, making automated driving the safest driving method. That sounds like a good plan to us.
We have already been over Cadillac’s “automated” driving system , which is basically just an adaptive cruise control system that takes over the steering too. Basically, it is not a true automated driving system, but it is semi-autonomous. Well, we all knew that Ford wouldn’t just sit back and watch GM take over this realm, as it has just announced that its engineers are working on a slightly similar, but far more restrictive, system.
The system that Ford is working on is called Traffic Jam Assist, and it does exactly what its name tells you. When you’re get stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you can enable this system and it will move the car with traffic and keep it within the lines. This frees up your hands to do far more important things than look at the road, like text message, enjoy a coffee and doughnut, or reprogram your stereo system.
One the traffic clears up, the system asks you to take over and you’re then forced to attempt to complete the uncompleted tasks that you started in traffic while driving… What a bummer.
Ford has even released a video displaying the system, and we have to say that on 99 percent of the roads in the U.S. with heavy congestion, we doubt this system will do little more than increase your stress. From what we can see, this system waits for the car in front to get a good car length or two ahead of you before moving your car forward. That just may induce a few “friendly” honks and one finger salutes from the less patient drivers behind you.
So, unless Ford can develop a way to have the system respond more quickly, we can see this being a really cool feature until you catch the first severe traffic jam. Fortunately, this system is nowhere near ready for release, so Ford has lots of time to perfect it.
We’ll let you know if any new features of this system pop up.