Monthly Archives: October 2012

Social Media May Solve Vehicle Issues

A new type of technology might just allow automobile manufacturers to scour social media sites for posts relating to vehicle defects.

This new technology would allow faster detection of vehicle defects and give automobile manufacturers a heads-up before a problem gets out of hand. The technology allows users to search multiple brands across the broad spectrum of social media platforms. It can locate, automatically, any comments made about a particular brand; model of vehicle or manufacturer. This information can be collated and disseminated to specific manufacturers or even departments within their organization.

This information would be useful for manufacturers in finding a problem with a particular vehicle before a major incident occurs, or identify a problem among a small user group. This information is critical for automobile manufacturers trying to stay abreast of the millions upon millions of vehicles they have sold.

There are only so many ways to identify when a vehicle has a problem. Chiefly this is accomplished by waiting until vehicle owners start writing to the manufacturers or showing up at the dealerships with their problem and letting the mechanics sort it out.

There are currently more than one billion people currently using social media on a daily basis. The sheer volume of information contained in their daily posts, where they are likely to share details about there daily comings-and-goings is full of useful information for not just automobile manufacturers but nearly every company that sells just about anything.

If automobile manufacturers are able to better sort through and analyze this information they will be in a much better position to ensure the safety of their customers and the vehicles they sell.

‘Anticollision Systems’ The New ‘Must-Have’ Feature

Nissan this week announced it would begin integrating an anticollision system in their 2015 model vehicles. These new systems have become quite sought after by consumers who are looking to buy vehicles with the very best safety features available.

Anticollision technology is not ‘autonomous’ driving–instead it bundles several features together to give the car some ability to help its driver avoid a collision automatically by reducing speed, applying the brakes, issuing an audible warning or even preventing the steering wheel from being turned if a collision would result.

These systems use a combination of embedded video cameras and proximity sensors to recognize obstacles, either other moving vehicles or stable objects such as light polls. The onboard computer inside the car is able to detect these objects and determine if a collision is eminent. If it is the car can automatically avoid these collisions by using its control systems.

When it comes to safety automobile consumers have repeatedly shown they are willing to pay more for a vehicle which has been proven to be safer. Whether it was seat belts, air bags or anti-lock brakes, consumers embraced these new features and sought vehicles primarily for these reasons.

Nissan is not the first automaker to pursue this tack. In fact, while other automakers have been furiously integrating these features into their current models, Nissan has been slow to adopt these systems. That is all about to change, however, with Nissan attempting to present vehicles with the most enhanced collision avoidance systems available, and (hopefully) skyrocketing their brand to the top of the list when it comes to the ‘safest’ cars to own and drive.

Amphibious Vehicles: Try, Try Again

Remember when Sir Richard Branson made headlines in his black, ocean-going aqua-car? In 2003 he set a record for crossing the English Channel in an Aquada, yet another “car of the future” which promises to give drivers the option of getting to their destination by land or sea.

Unfortunately, that was almost a decade ago and as of now the Aquada is still not ready for mass market production. The company that makes the Aquada, Gibbs, said they are still planning to make a consumer version available, but first must overcome problems with United States environmental and safety standards and possibly rules put in place by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Among the problems they need to overcome in production of their three-seat Aquada are salt-water tolerant electrical systems and air bags. The company has said it is working with these groups to find a solution and is confident a solution will be found sooner rather than later. In the meantime, while plans for the Aquada remain shelved, Gibbs said it will release a new amphibious vehicle called the Quadski in 2013.

Amphibious vehicles have been around for decades. In 1961-1965, 4,000 ‘Amphicars’ were released in the United States. The vehicle was road worthy and drivers were able to drive it into nearby lakes or calm rivers and shock passengers (and anyone watching them drive into the water.) Produced by the Quandt Group specifically for the U.S. market, the Amphicar is still considered the most successful civilian amphibious vehicle mass-produced. In fact, it is only the one which made it to the “mass-produced” stage, and 4,000 vehicles is not a stunning claim to fame.

As difficult as it has been to make a flying car available to the consumer market, amphibious vehicles have shared much the same fate. The fact is, trying to meet current safety and environmental standards imposed on automobiles for boats and planes is a bit of a stretch. If companies can find a way to bridge this gap we might all one day be flying, driving or boating around our world.

Are Electric Cars Better For The Environment? Maybe, Maybe Not

One of the biggest drivers of consumer demand for electric powered vehicles has been the underlying belief that these vehicles are actually better for the environment. However, a new study conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology seems to cast doubt on this belief.

The study was conducted to determine is electric vehicles simply shift concerns about the environment from one aspect to another. In other words, these new vehicles might not run on fossil fuels, which has been shown to cause global CO2 issues, but what about the toxic materials used in construction of the batteries and the production of the electricity used to power these vehicles? Do these factors outweigh any benefits gained from the fact they do not require fossil fuel to operate?

Perhaps not surprisingly to many, the study showed that yes, these vehicles do shift the balance away from fossil fuels and that the shift results in negative gain. In other words, are electric vehicles better for the environment? The answer is, no.

This does not mean that electric vehicles are bad and the technology should be abandoned. It simply means that consumers should be made aware that there are disadvantages to using electric vehicles and efforts should be undertaken to make them less harmful to environment, much as those same efforts made fossil fuel powered vehicles less harmful to the environment, such as the introduction of the catalytic converter and the elimination of the need for gasoline with lead.

No technology when first introduced is perfect. There is always a learning curve and always room for improvement when something new is rolled out. However, it is important for consumers to understand exactly what they getting before they commit to buy. If they are choosing an electric vehicle simply to decrease their dependence on having to stop at a gas station, then that’s ok. If they believe that buying an electric vehicle will somehow save the planet, well, that’s another story altogether.