Technologizer posts about Cars

Yesterday, I attended GigaOM’s RoadMap conference in San Francisco and got to check out Tesla’s upcoming Model S sedan. It’s an electric car. That’s neat. But the thing that got me excited was the fact that it sports a built-in 17″ touch screen right where you’d expect to see conventional gauges and knobs. More thoughts and photos over at CNET.

Posted by Harry at 10:11 am


Pioneer Does Augmented Reality–in a Visor

By  |  Posted at 12:33 am on Wednesday, October 5, 2011



I’m in Tokyo for CEATEC–the Consumer Electronics Show of Japan–and have been roaming the show floor and discovering nifty stuff. Some of it will show up in the U.S. eventually; some of it won’t.

Pioneer, which makes lots of aftermarket electronics for cars, is demoing a rather unusual visor. It’s an augmented reality heads-up display–Pioneer calls it an AR HUD–that uses lasers to overlay text and images on the road ahead. By doing so, it can do driving directions that use the world around you for imagery, not a digital recreation on a screen in the dashboard.

The technology should show up in commercial form in 2012, Pioneer says–in Japan at first, in a model that can be installed as an aftermarket accessory. It may be built into cars later, and should reach other countries. The price hasn’t been set yet.

(Full disclosure: I spoke at a CEATAC keynote and the show subsidized my travel costs.)

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For my latest column, I got to spend time with Audi’s new A7. It has a supercharged V6 engine, an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, and all-wheel drive. That’s great, but what got me excited was the Google Earth-based navigation, dual SD slots, handwriting recognition, and onboard Wi-Fi hotspot…

Posted by Harry at 9:24 am


Google Lobbies Nevada to Pass Robot Car Bill

By  |  Posted at 9:44 pm on Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Google is lobbying the Nevada legislature to pass legislation that would make it the first state to allow the operation of robotically controlled cars on its roads. The company wants to be at the forefront of this: Harry’s post from last October reported on Google’s efforts to develop self driving technology.

It’s not really clear what business a search company has in developing robotic technologies, but hey, nobody ever said that Google shouldn’t attempt to expand its business. It needs the go-ahead by public officials before anything could happen.

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Gas Saving Tips (‘Cause the Prices are Killing Us)

By  |  Posted at 12:04 pm on Friday, April 22, 2011


Planning a road trip? Maybe you’ve heard about the new gas pricing scheme used by many gas stations. And with gas at over $4 a gallon, I’ve retrofitted the gas gauge in my ancient, 13-mpg Roadtrek camper van. This week: Internet resources to help me (and maybe you) get the best deal on gasoline — and better mileage.

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Over at, my Technologizer column for this week is about cars with truly modern, connected infotainment systems–such as Ford’s Sync and MyFord Touch, Toyota’s upcoming Entune, and Audi’s next-generation MMI with Google Earth. (A shorter version of the column–but with prettier pictures!–will also be in tomorrow’s print edition.)

Executive summary: These things are getting better much more rapidly than in the past, but have a ways to go before they catch up with the result of the consumer electronics industry.

Posted by Harry at 2:25 pm

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Eight Things I Liked at CES

By  |  Posted at 3:16 pm on Thursday, January 13, 2011


I liked CES 2011. I found it useful and fun. I’m glad I went. None of those reactions were a given–I understand why some folks question the show’s very reasons for existing, and I’ve been known to accentuate the negative myself.  This year, however, there was a critical mass of interesting stuff, in multiple categories.

From Tuesday afternoon of last week through Saturday, I spent so much time learning about new products that I didn’t cover all that many of them here while the show was going on. So here’s a catch-up post with a few of the ones that made this CES one of the best ones in my memory–despite the insane crowds, the aisles and aisles of lookalike phone covers, and the jingling case of  slot-machine tinnitus that I still can’t quite shake.

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Look Ma, No Hands! A Brief History of Self-Driving Cars

By  |  Posted at 3:17 pm on Saturday, October 9, 2010


Less than two weeks ago, I attended a talk by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Schmidt spoke about a profoundly computer-augmented future, and said that there was no reason why super-safe self-driving cars couldn’t be built–in fact, he said he couldn’t understand why humans were allowed to drive automobiles at all. (As is fairly common with Schmidt comments, it wasn’t entirely clear where that comment sat on the continuum from utter frivolity to deadly seriousness.)

At the time, I wondered whether Google wanted to control the computers that controlled the world’s cars. Now we know the answer: It does, or at least it wants to play an active role in inventing the technology.

As the New York Times’ John Markoff reports and a Google blog post discloses, Google has been working on developing cars that can drive themselves. One such vehicle, a modified Prius, motored its way down the coast from San Francisco to Santa Monica. (Its route apparently came within a couple of miles of my house–maybe I shared the road with it.) The idea may stretch the definition of Google’s mission–”to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”–but the noble goals include saving lives, reducing pollution, and generally making travel more efficient.

The Google blog post says that its autopilot vehicles have logged more than 140,000 miles to date, which presumably means the project has been going on for quite a while. It sounds cool, but I’m unclear why it’s apparently been secret until now, or why Schmidt spoke so cryptically and so recently of laws restricting the roads to self-driving cars without mentioning that Google was building them.

Google isn’t the only outfit working on this idea–a few months ago, I went for a very brief ride in a self-driving, self-parking Volkswagen developed at Stanford University. And the basic idea has been fodder for magazines such as Popular Mechanics and Popular Science for decades. Herewith, a few examples from the past seventy-seven years ago–none of which seem to have gotten as far as Google’s experiments.

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Over at Techland, I’ve blogged about a cool demo I saw at the CTIA show here in San Francisco today: Ford’s new SDK which lets Android and BlackBerry developers write apps that control the Ford Sync in-dash entertainment/information system.

Posted by Harry at 3:09 pm

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The Flintstones: Fifty Years of Irresponsible Driving

By  |  Posted at 12:28 pm on Thursday, September 30, 2010


Last night, I expressed concern that Google’s celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of The Flintstones appeared to involve a grisly scene with Bamm Bamm’s severed head stored on the roof of Fred’s car. My post has inspired some comments, including the suggestion that Bamm Bamm is alive and well and merely riding up there, as well as a “grassy knoll” theory.

The topic clearly merited additional research. My friend Andrew Leal found a number of relevant images–check ‘em out after the jump.

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Cnet’s Tom Krazit thinks that Google CEO Eric Schmidt should be careful with his visions of a profoundly computer-augmented future:

It’s not that Schmidt is wrong or misguided in making these predictions: the seeds for such a future were sown long ago. But Schmidt and Google never seem to understand how much they freak some people out when they evangelize a future that de-emphasizes the role of people in their day-to-day lives.

I agree that Schmidt’s enthusiasm can be unsettling, at least on first blush (which is not the same thing as saying that his predictions won’t come true, or that I won’t be happy if they do). When he talks about the end of human-driven cars, one of the questions that pops into my head is this: Does Google plan to run the computers that run the planet’s automobiles?

Posted by Harry at 11:04 am


Inside Volkswagen’s Silicon Valley Gadget Lab

By  |  Posted at 12:02 pm on Monday, August 9, 2010


Volkswagen never wants you to forget that its cars are engineered in Germany–hey, its current slogan is “Das Auto.” But cool Web tools,  innovative gizmos, and digital entertainment aren’t exactly synonymous with German engineering. It’s Silicon Valley that’s the world’s headquarters for that stuff. And so it’s not that startling that much of VW’s work on new and future electronics, gadgetry, and interfaces happens at its Electronics Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, in close proximity to electronics engineering talent the company might want to hire and tech companies it might want to work with. The ERL is also a quick drive away from Stanford University’s Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab, where VW collaborates with university students and researchers on new technologies. (I wrote about VAIL’s self-driving Passat a few months ago.)

As part of VW’s press event for the 2011 Jetta, I took a tour of the ERL last week. Herewith, some photographic highlights.

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California Considers Platevertising

By  |  Posted at 2:43 am on Monday, June 21, 2010


The scariest California disaster at the moment has nothing to do with earthquakes, mudslides, or brushfires–it’s the state’s financial crisis. I spend my share of time stressing out over it, and appreciate the need for extraordinary responses. But I still have my doubts about a bill which would roll out electronic license plates to Californian motorists–ones which could display ads when cars were stopped at red lights or otherwise temporarily out of motion.

This article on the proposed technoplates doesn’t provide much detail, other than that the ads would kick in only when a car was stopped for at least four seconds, and that a company called Smart Plate might be involved. But even if you aren’t worried about the potential for the plates being dangerously distracting, the government mandating that we put ads on our cars doesn’t sound wildly different from insisting that we install neong signs in our living-room windows. (No, Governor Schwarzenegger, that wasn’t a suggestion.)

Howsabout this: What if the plates were strictly optional–but driver who elected to use them got a cut of the ad revenue? Each citizen could choose whether to go commercial or keep his or her car a commercial-free zone. Or raise auto-related fees but offer the plate ads as a way of avoiding the hikes. Or something. Your ideas welcome…


Volkswagen’s Autonomous Car: Drivers Unneccesary

By  |  Posted at 12:42 am on Friday, April 16, 2010


On Thursday afternoon, I went for a very short ride–maybe forty yards–in the back seat of a diesel Volkswagen Passat. Here’s why I’m writing about it on a site called Technologizer: The car had no driver. I was attending the formal dedication of the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab (VAIL) at Stanford University–complete with a ceremonial ribbon cutting by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The car in question was Junior 3, a collaborative effort between VW and Stanford researchers.

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I kinda doubt that I’ll ever own an Audi A8–I’m still perfectly pleased with my 2004 Mazda 3. But the new A8 does have an option I’d kill for: built-in Google Earth.

Posted by Harry at 3:41 pm

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