Monthly Archives: August 2012

‘Talking’ Cars May Help Improve Driving Safety

A new experimental program taking place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, right now may portend the future of ‘safe driving’ for all of us. The $25 million program, sponsored and monitored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the University of Michigan, is designed to increase the ability of standard vehicles to understand where they are and communicate with other vehicles on the road with them about where they are going.

Nearly three thousand passenger cars and trucks have been outfitted with special software and hardware, including GPS devices. The vehicles are then equipped with driver warning systems so if the driver makes a sudden stop, or turns unexpectedly (or even slowly and safely) it will automatically notify other vehicles in the area which can determine whether or not the driver should be warned.

“Danger, car ahead is slowing” is an example of how the system might work.

This is not an experiment in autonomous vehicle control. Control of these vehicles remains with the driver. It will be up to the driver to react promptly to any warnings which are issued.

The experiment in Ann Arbor is scheduled to last a full 12 months. During that time the vehicles will be carefully monitored and drivers will be surveyed to determine how the system responds. Obviously they will also be tracking all vehicle crashes which occur during the course of the experiment in an effort to understand the exact cause of any vehicle collisions which do occur.

Automobile manufacturers are investigating a variety of systems designed to increase safety on the roads. Among these various systems are fully autonomous vehicle control, or self-driving cars; and semi-autonomous systems which is akin to an enhanced cruise control feature now available on some models of Cadillac. Eventually the industry seems certain to discover what works best, and begin to shift all vehicles to that standard. Until then it seems likely we will see a mix of full autonomous, partially autonomous, and good ol’ fashioned “driver only” vehicles on the road, all trying to be as safe as possible.

Fisker Recalls EV For Fire Risk

Fisker, maker of the latest in a long line of new electric vehicles, the Karma, is now recalling all 1900 Karma models they sold last year due to a risk of fire.

Vehicle recalls are nothing new for consumers. In fact, Ford, Mazda, GM and Volvo have all had major recalls far greater than the 1,900 vehicles Fisker is drawing back, but the fact that Fisker has only sold a handful of vehicles and already has a major recall is troubling.

In fact, this wasn’t even their first recall. They had one earlier this year which was caused by a problem with the battery:

“Cooling fans on all Karma models sold so far will be replaced, and an additional fuse will be installed as a secondary precaution. Fisker was quick to point out that the incident was in no way related to the battery pack or electric propulsion system, which the company addressed in a prior recall earlier this year, in which a faulty hose clamp could cause coolant leakage on the battery pack, possibly resulting in a short and a fire.”

No deaths or injuries were reported as a result of this problem, but clearly the company was concerned enough to recall all 2,000 of their Fisker Karma vehicles to fix the problem.

For those committed to using electric vehicles the recall will likely not be much a deterrent, however given the proliferation of alternative fueled vehicles, especially electric vehicles, they can always just move down to the next dealership rather than risk a company that might not have the most optimal designed vehicle.

Fisker is struggling with management and funding issues. They have burned through three CEO’s in the past year and the recent loss of funding from the Department of Energy has pushed back the release of their next model, the ‘Atlantic.’

Out-Of-This-World Cars

If you are looking for the car of the future; the super car end all super cars, look no further than NASA. In fact, the American space agency has built, tested and used some of the most advanced vehicles ever designed and put them to work on the Moon and Mars in ways most of us could never ever dream of.

There were three different moon buggies used by astronauts who explored the lunar surface in the early 1970’s. These vehicles were fairly stripped down and hardly powerful. They could only boast about 1/2 horsepower of pure adrenaline and maxed out at a whopping 4 miles per hour, but they did help the astronauts explore more than 30 kilometers of lunar landscape, something which would have been impossible if they had to walk.

If you think the new autonomous cars now being road tested in Nevada and California are the cutting edge, you’d be wrong. NASA has been using autonomous roving vehicles on Mars for almost 20 years. From the little ‘Sojourner’ vehicle launched and landed successfully on the surface of Mars in 1997, to the twin rovers, ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’ which lasted years beyond their expected lifespan of ninety days. In fact, launched and landed in 2004, the rovers were still exploring last year when ‘Spirit’ became impossibly stuck in the martian soil. ‘Opportunity’ continues to explore, however.

With the successful landing this week of the latest Martian rover, ‘Curiosity’, NASA has truly outdone itself. The new rover is the size of a Mini Cooper and packs tons of instruments. A select few, highly skilled NASA engineers will be allowed to drive the new rover as it explores a huge Martian crater and mountain and searches for life.

The next time you slip behind the wheel of your vehicle, and think about just how cool it is, consider how much cooler it would be if your daily commute took across lunar or Martian soil.

No ‘Super-Car Taxis’ In Jakarta

If you’re interested in starting a taxis service using super cars in Jakarta, Indonesia, there seems to be a great deal of interest already. In fact, a recent publicity stunt by a Jakarta bank showed that not only is there interested in a super car taxis service, but if you promise one and don’t actually deliver on that promise, people are likely to get angry.

That was the lesson learned by Indonesia’s largest bank, Mandiri, after it start rumors about the new super car taxis service and even decked out some Porsche and Ferrari vehicles as if they were going into service and sending them out around the city if Jakarta. Unfortunately which have seemed like a great idea at the time, didn’t work out quite the way they intended:

But it turns out that the company never existed and it was just an extremely elaborate marketing campaign by Indonesia’s biggest bank, Mandiri.

The bright-yellow super-cars were fitted with taxi signage and MM Cabs logos but were nothing more than a publicity campaign for Bank Mandiri’s new smartphone App for iPhones and Androids.

Hoards of excited Jakartans flocked to MM Cabs Twitter page expecting to find out more about the exclusive offering and it was from there that the confusing publicity stunt became clear.

The social media followers were then able to click a link which took them to Mandiri’s website which was promoting the new mobile banking app.

The campaign is thought to have cost the company a whopping £135,500 which includes renting the two super cars.

The other thing they might have considered is the fact that local traffic rarely gets up to speeds over 25mph so all that horsepower is pretty much just wasted space.