Automotive & transport

Next generation vehicle safety

While the environment seems to be flavour of the month for car companies at the moment, it looks like safety will be the next big theme. Historically, car companies have focused on how to minimise damage in a collision but this is changing as attention shifts towards how to avoid vehicle collisions in the first place. For example, GM, Toyota, Nissan and others are working on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) systems whereby one vehicle communicates its position, speed and conditions to other vehicles in the immediate vicinity. In theory this could help to prevent collisions at unmarked intersections or blind bends. Other technologies being researched include monitors to assess conditions inside the vehicle (for example, an alarm sounds if the driver isn’t facing forwards) and systems to aggressively adjust the controls if the driver isn’t paying attention. Other ‘sixth sense’ features include headlights that brighten or darken automatically depending on speed or rainfall intensity, and skid-avoidance systems. On a related note, Japanese bike maker Honda has created a new concept motorbike, called the ASV-3, using cogitative psychology. The human brain responds fastest to images of a human face – so the front of the bike has been designed to resemble a face – with eyes and a mouth. In theory, this should be recognised faster by other motorists thus reducing collisions.
Ref: The New York Times (US) 2 January 2006, ‘Brakes that pay attention when the driver doesn’t’, T. Mello; 2 January 2006, ‘Cars are talking; safety is the topic’, J. Peters. Nikkei Weekly (Japan) 7 November 2005, ‘Car safety technology shifts gear’; 19 December 2005, ‘Cognitative psychology lends “human face” to motorbike’.
Links: safety, crashing, intelligent, V2V, sixth sense, design

Fix it yourself

Here’s another interesting idea, this time from France. 'O’Garage is a garage that people who own cars (but not garages or tools) can rent for an hour, a day or a week to fix their own car. The garage is a fully-equipped professional workshop and help is available if you can’t tell your brake discs from your wishbones. This is a little strange given the boom in domestic outsourcing (ie, paying people to do things you used to do yourself) but perhaps it’s connected to a growing need to get your hands dirty. Perhaps the big car companies should throttle back a bit on the computer enhanced, sealed engineering that pervades so much modern automotive design and design something that ordinary drivers can (and want) to fix themselves.
Ref: Various including Springwise (Neth) issue 27, January 2006, ‘O’Garage’.
Links: garages, DIY, fix it yourself, do it yourself, dirt, dirty, simplicity, complexity

Paint that fixes itself

Nissan has created a new paint coating that repairs minor scratches itself. The ‘paint’ is actually a transparent coating that is highly elastic. When scratched, the coating turns into a fluid and simply ‘flows’ back together. Very Sci-Fi. Why can't this coating be applied to DVDs? (mine always get scratched and then won't work).
Ref: Nikkei Weekly (Japan) 17 November 2005,
Links: paint, flow, scratches, scratch

Park and play

Nissan (again). The designers at the company’s American design lab have created a concept car called the Urge targeted squarely at the post-MTV generation.One of the key features of the car is a built-in X-Box 360, which links to the car’s steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals. But don’t worry, the X-box only works when the car is parked. The concept is based on insights gained from a survey of ‘echo-boomers’ that identified gaming and technology as key attributes when buying a new car. No doubt we’ll see more of this migration from gaming to autos over the next few years thanks, partly, to the continued popularity of TV shows like ‘Pimp my ride’ and the predilection of rappers for in-car entertainment.
Ref: The Times (UK) 31 December 2005, ‘Car that lets you park and ride at 170mph’. C. Ayres.
Links: gaming, Gen Y, MTV, X-box, rappers

Rent-a-car innovation

In Australia, if you’re young and fairly presentable (secret code for ‘correct target audience’) you can rent a brand new SMART car from KahDo for just AUD $35 a week. The catch? The car is covered with advertising and you must drive the car at least 500 km a month (15 km per day). How do you keep track of your kilometres? Easy, each car is equipped with GPS tracking and they tell you if you’re not going out enough. Ads are changed every three months and you cannot park in a private garage or off-road where the car can’t be seen. There’s even a KahDo club and a newsletter to link you with other like-minded drivers. Now how about extending this concept to other areas like motorbikes, caravans, trucks or boats?
Ref: See
Links: car rental, loans, advertising, ads, vehicles, city, GPS