As I open this discussion on gadgets in our cars, I want to fully disclose what I drive: a 2005 Nissan Altima SE-R V6. It’s a driver’s car, the fastest I’ve ever driven. It’s not a technology writer’s car, however. It doesn’t even have a stereo plug for my phone. It does, however, come with Disney Princess stickers adorning the hood and rear passenger window, which my daughter swears enhance the aerodynamics of the vehicle.
This car is precisely why I’m qualified to discuss driving technology. Particularly, what kind of technology would make me trade in the best car I’ve ever owned for something new.
Is it Ford’s Sync system, with its voice controls and ability to read your texts to you while driving? My brother-in-law has a new Escape with that system and likes it. Of course, his spelling and grammar aren’t great to begin with, so the people reading his texts can’t tell if he’s using voice recognition or not. I, on the other hand, would be mortified if I ever sent a grammatically incorrect text. People might think I’m having a stroke.
Then there are the sensors you find in a lot of luxury cars that keep you from running into things, whether you’re going forward or backwards. As someone with a small child, I think that’s a great idea. I also haven’t hit anything with a car in over ten years, so I doubt (knock on wood) that it would ever be used.
Toyota offers EnTune, which uses your phone to stream Pandora and other Web 2.0 apps through your stereo. That would be a great idea if AT&T and friends didn’t view data plans as their personal ATMs. Until city-wide Wi-Fi becomes a reality, EnTune will only be effective for the chosen ones who walk amongst us mortals here on Earth: People whose employers pay for their phones and don’t care how much data they use.
Of course, there’s Sirius/XM. Judging by their stock price and how often they e-mail, begging me to come back, their business must be going great. I was devoted to them until they cancelled my favorite station. It turns out I would rather listen to commercials than anything else they have on.
So there’s really nothing out there that interests me to the point of trading in the Altima. What I really want is the car from Minority Report that drives itself. You are probably saying right now, “Why don’t you just use public transportation?” You’ve never been to Florida, have you?
If I had a car that drove itself, I wouldn’t have to worry about texting because I could actually be texting. I wouldn’t have to worry about running over small children. I would just have to worry about my car running over small children, and you can’t sue a car. And I wouldn’t have to worry about what’s on the stereo because I would be sleeping, texting, reading the paper, etc.
As we have seen throughout the past year or so, Google and others are close to making this dream a reality for me. They have devised a car that uses Google Earth data and sensors to manage the movement of the vehicle. Unfortunately, it’s programmed to follow the speed limit, but I’m sure that if you root it and load CyanogenMod, you can overclock it. Would I get in the Google car and let it tool me around? Absolutely! I trust this cell-phone-on-wheels a lot more than I trust the fools I normally share the road with.
As is normally the case, my love goes unrequited. My Google car is still quite a few years off due to production and regulatory issues. So here are a few things that I want auto manufacturers to start working on now to get me to switch:
What I could really use is a sensor to notify me when I’m coming up to an intersection with those cursed red-light cameras installed. Yes, I know they tend to have signs warning you to that fact, but I’m usually too busy texting to see the signs. One more surprise love letter from the city and I can write off receiving any more from my wife.
I would also like an option that senses if I’m about to be pulled over and immediately puts one of those Police Athletic League support stickers on my back window. I don’t want to decorate my car with the sticker all the time, just when they would be particularly useful.
Finally, if I reach a certain speed, I would like the car to automatically start giving a running commentary of my driving habits using Jeremy Clarkson’s voice. Of course, this might make the previous two options more valuable.