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In Car Gadgets by Accident

When I was a teen, it was super cool to have an eight-track in your car. Of course, you’d have to pull the cartridge out and try to stuff the tape back into it on occasion, but it was fun and it helped with dates.

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When I was in my twenties, it was cool to have a cassette player in your car. They were smaller, longer, more secure, and best of all sounded better. Did I mention the benefits with dates?

When I was in my thirties, having a CD-player in your car was way-cool. Cassettes were so old hat. Who would admit to having one? Not me. In fact, I opted for a six-disc CD-Changer in my trunk, plus the additional in-dash slot for that extra. CDs were cool. For some reason, they didn’t seem to have much of an impact in getting dates…

Now that I’m in my forties, I am very uncool. I still have a CD-changer in my car. Of course, it’s a six-disc in-dash unit and my wife loves it, but that’s it. Very uncool. Oh, wait – I do have a navigation system in my car. Does that help?

It might, but only if it’s complex and has lots of buttons. If your car’s ICE is limited to a CD-changer, you might as well put on a tie and wear loafers (not at the same time). Today, cool cars have some type of nav system, an iPod input or dock, a blue-tooth phone connection, a DVD player and perhaps an X-box or PS2 stashed under the seat. People are dying to get these into their cars, SUVs and trucks. Literally.

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As human beings, we’re apparently not as cool as we think we are. Neuroscientists refer to our inability to handle more than one stimulus at a time as, “attentional blink.” Put another way, it takes time for the typical human brain to react to stimulus, and when you’re driving, there can be a lot of it. For example, it takes three quarters of a second to read the speedometer in your car. It takes a full second to take in the images in your rear-view mirror. It takes eight seconds to find a radio station and if you don’t like it, another eight and so on. So, when you’re doing too many things in your car, your ability to stay focused on the road is impared. But wait, it gets worse.

According to the University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driving Simulator, people tend to get in their cars and head out to work, to the market, or to pick up the kids on a sort of “human auto-pilot.” There isn’t much thought about what happens between the time you shift into drive and switch off the ignition at your destination. It’s only when something unexpected happens, like a semi blowing out its tires, that you suddenly switch into “emergency reaction mode” and attempt to actually drive your car. Often, when you’re on the phone and entering in a destination on the nav while the kids watch a DVD, it’s too late.

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So, why are these things legal? We’re already over-protecting our kids, so why not our drivers? For starters, it is typically illegal to have a video screen in the front of a vehicle that will play movies or similar images while a car is in motion. Some nav systems will not permit input while you’re driving. And, if you’re practical and plan ahead, you can set your nav to your destination before you pull out of the driveway. You can pre-select the playlist for your iPod, and you can make certain your phone is hands-free.

Various studies have shown that touch-screens are safer than keypads or joysticks (somebody call the iDrive folks at BMW). Most parents agree that a DVD player in the back seat will keep the kids satisfied for a lot longer (but make sure you have headphones for them). Or, you could just decide to be uncool and keep your car’s ICE limited to a CD-player. I promise not to go back to an eight-track, however. I like my wife and want her to stick around.

1 Comment

  • Urquhart| March 14, 2006 at 9:07 am Reply

    Absolutely: There is too much going on in cars today. iDrive was the perfect example of trying to do too much with the interface. Here’s the holy grail: SUPERIPOD that Bluetooths with the car. The SUPERIPOD would carry your music, podcasts, video-casts, address book, phone, navigation, diagnostics… everything. The car would be the receptor. It would provide a nice monitor with voice activation and be very easy to use.
    In this way, the human controls the content that goes into the car and handles necessary firmware and software upgrades off site, i.e. with a computer at home or in the office. In this way the upgrade path for complicated systems is always avaiilable electronically.
    The problem is that if this were implemented a major revenue stream for dealer and car manufacturer parts and service would disappear.

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