Monthly Archives: March 2017

Older Cars Using New Technologies to Be More Safe in Driving

LIKE many parents of young drivers, Shane Coulter wants his 16-year-old daughter’s car to be as safe as possible when she takes to the road. But like many older vehicles, the 2008 Jeep Wrangler that he bought for her lacked many high-tech safety features, like a rearview camera, that are increasingly found in newer cars.

But that didn’t mean he had to be left out of the technological revolution. Audiovox makes a rearview camera that can be added on.

“I actually put it on my daughter’s Jeep,” said Mr. Coulter, who lives in Warner Robins, Ga.

The rearview camera is one of the most popular of a growing list of add-on devices and services that promise to bring modern features to aging jalopies.

“Lane departure and collision warning, pedestrian warnings, high-beam control and traffic sign recognition — all of those can be retrofitted in a customer’s car,” said Elad Serfaty, a vice president at Mobileye, whose technology is built into a variety of vehicles from BMW, Volvo and other carmakers that offer collision detection and prevention.

A warning and monitoring system that can be added to older vehicles, like the Mobileye 660, costs roughly $1,000 including a professional installation, Mr. Serfaty said, but he pointed out that the benefits could outweigh the costs. A Highway Loss Data Institute study of Honda Accords and Crosstours equipped with lane departure and forward collision warnings, for example, found a 14 percent reduction in damage claims compared with models without the systems.

Consequently, many car accessory companies are joining the driver assistance trend. Garmin, hoping to resuscitate flagging sales of portable navigation devices, has incorporated such technology in its $400 nüviCam LMTHD. The navigation device has a built-in video camera that scans the road ahead, offering not only directions but also chimes and yellow icon warnings whenever a driver drifts out of the lane or starts tailgating.

Usually cited as a major distraction to drivers, smartphones are also being enlisted to create alert systems. One of the earliest and most extensive driver assistance apps was iOnRoad, now owned by Harman International. Using a smartphone’s built-in camera, the app monitors the car’s speed and distance from the vehicle ahead, sounding a loud alarm if the distance shrinks too quickly or the driver fails to brake sufficiently.

Using the app can feel like having a digital back-seat driver that chides you every time you drift too close to the fog line. But iOnRoad’s constant pings can work to adjust driving habits, like improving driver alertness and increasing the following distance between cars.

“If you have a teenage driver, the app will allow you to analyze driving habits,” said Alon Atsmon, vice president for technology strategy at Harman. “It can log events, such as tailgating and lane departure warnings, then score his driving compared to other drivers around the world.” The basic app is free; a premium $5 version adds dashcamlike video recording and speed limit sign recognition.

Many customers decide to upgrade the older family car when it gets handed down to a new teenage driver, according to Keith Imbriglio, the manager at Long Radio, an installation firm in Hadley, Mass.

Among the most popular add-ons, he said, are rearview cameras like the one Mr. Coulter installed on his daughter’s Wrangler. They all but eliminate blind spots behind vehicles.

The Audiovox ACA900, which Mr. Coulter purchased, is a $129 wide-angle backup video camera with an ultrasonic sensor. It mounts in a rear license plate bracket and sounds proximity warnings and displays a picture in a dashboard LCD screen or replacement rearview mirror.

When the car is put into reverse, the rearview picture appears, including distance and parking guidelines. If the driver gets too close to a pedestrian or nearby obstruction, the system beeps loudly and powerfully and shows a red “STOP” alert on the video monitor.

The biggest problem with the systems, Mr. Imbroglio said, is that they take a lot of time to install. Labor can add $70 to $100 to the price for consumers, many of whom may balk at sinking more money into an aging vehicle with tens of thousands of miles on it.

So some drivers opt for do-it-yourself tracking and car monitoring devices that simply plug into the onboard diagnostic or OBD-II port under the dashboard of cars built from 1996 onward. The proliferation of OBD II devices include models like those pitched by insurance companies promising to lower rates for good driving habits or those from Silicon Valley start-ups looking to capitalize on the connected car trend.

Taking connected car apps to the next level, Viper, which makes car alarms, has just introduced software that works with Apple and Android smartwatches. The Viper SmartStart 4.0 app can remotely start, locate and unlock a car from a compatible watch. The forthcoming Android app will even obey voice commands, like “O.K., Google, start my car,” according to the company. A typical Viper module package costs $399, installed, with geofencing alerts — which let parents know when their child strays outside a preset zone — available for an annual fee of $99.

William Stewart of Brooklyn was persuaded.

“I could be anywhere in the world and I can lock and unlock the car,” said Mr. Stewart, who had a Viper system professionally installed in his 2014 Lexus RS350. Initially, he was interested in adding a remote start feature for cold weather days, but liked the additional features. “And when the alarm triggers, it gives you a notification on your phone.”

For all the technical sleight of hand, there are limits to what aftermarket upgrades can bring to a car. Unlike built-in options in new cars, none of these systems can automatically brake a vehicle to prevent a crash or steer a car toward the center of the lane when the driver wanders. And none of the upgrades will stop a car remotely like OnStar can in the event of a theft.

United States Banned Mobile Phone Usage in the Car

 Americans have been driving cars and using telephones for about a century. But it’s only been in the past five or 10 years that we’ve been combining these two activities. and we’re finding out that it’s a dangerous mix.

A new Nationwide Insurance survey revealed that 45 percent of drivers say they have been hit or nearly hit by another driver using a cell phone. The danger is also evident in the seemingly daily news stories about deadly crashes caused by someone texting behind the wheel.

The government reports that 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 were injured last year in crashes where at least one form of driver distraction was reported. Driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 and was prevalent among young drivers.

Americans are getting fed up with people driving while distracted (DWD). Nationwide’s latest survey found that 80 percent of Americans favor a ban on texting while driving, and more than half say they would support a ban on cell phone use altogether while driving.

“In recent months, the debate about the dangers of DWD has intensified as more and more states consider taking legislative action,” said Bill Windsor, Nationwide’s Safety Officer. “The survey results confirm that there is strong public support for banning texting while driving.”

Instead of waiting for the federal and state governments to make these behaviors illegal, Nationwide is working toward technological solutions that address the peer pressure that drivers get from friends and family to stay connected. About two-thirds of respondents to a recent Nationwide poll said they feel pressure to answer calls when on the road.

These solutions involve software installed on a phone or Blackberry that recognizes when you’re driving and blocks incoming calls and texts, using an auto-reply message to let your friends know that you’re driving. Nationwide even plans to offer insurance discounts to drivers who use these devices once they become available.

“Teens have this two-minute rule — somebody sends a text message, and if you don’t get back within two minutes, the other person feels you’re mad at them, or something’s wrong,” Windsor said. “We think this technology will fill that gap.”

In addition to saving lives, fewer DWD-related crashes could also result in lower insurance costs for consumers.

“DWD impacts all of us in one form or another, and Nationwide will continue to raise public awareness about this important issue,” said Windsor. “By working closely with legislators, public safety officials and other key stakeholders, we can arrive at real-world solutions to this problem and help make the roads a safer place.”

Driving Guide Of Satellite Radio

Here is your guide to Satellite Radio from Sirius.

1. How Does It All Work?
Satellite radio is a digital audio service originating from studios in Canada and the United States. It is broadcast throughout North America by satellites travelling in an orbit above the western hemisphere. Vehicles equipped with a satellite radio receiver and a subscription can access Sirius’ 120 channels of news, talk, sports and commercial-free music programming, which includes some of entertainment’s biggest names – Howard Stern, Martha Stewart, Cosmo Radio, ESPN, Hockey Night in Canada Radio, NASCAR and CNN.

2. How Can I Get Satellite Radio In My Car?
It’s as easy as checking with your dealer as most new vehicles are available with satellite radio. Additionally, there are a variety of Sirius aftermarket dock-and-play and portable radios available that can be installed quickly and easily.

3. I Live In A Remote Part Of The Country. Will I Be Able To Get A Signal?
Sirius Satellite radio provides coverage across North America from urban centres to some of the most remote regions. Even while you are travelling from one province to another or within the U.S., the reception will remain clear.

4. What About Road Trips?
Satellite radio was made for road trips. With Sirius, you won’t be out of range and you can drive from Victoria to Charlottetown or Winnipeg to Miami without ever having to change the channel.

5. What Type of Commercial-free Music is Available? 
Sirius offers a variety of music that is completely commercial-free from almost every genre including 80s pop hits, classic rock, opera, hip hop, country and jazz. Sirius also offers channels dedicated to iconic musicians that have included Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Radio, Grateful Dead Radio, Paul McCartney’s Fireman Radio, Coldplay Nation, ABBA Radio and Neil Diamond Radio, among many others.

6. Can I Listen At Home? 
With a plug-and-play Sirius radio and a homekit or boombox accessory, you can listen to satellite radio anywhere.

7. Can I Listen Online? 
Subscribers can listen to Sirius programming over the Internet from their computer at home or work, at no additional cost.

8. What About Cost? 
Subscriptions are available for a monthly cost of $14.99. Subscribers can arrange to have a pay-as-you go monthly plan or a one, two or three year subscription.

Microsoft Puts the Voice-Activation Software at Hyundai

Microsoft is expected to announce Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea, that it will develop a version of its Microsoft Auto software for the Hyundai Kia Automotive Group, the world’s fifth-largest automaker.

Microsoft already has a deal with the Ford Motor Company for its Sync system, which uses voice activation technology to operate cellphones and play digital music.

With both Ford and Hyundai as customers, Microsoft’s software could potentially be put into more than eight million vehicles worldwide each year. Its competitors include OnStar from General Motors, Johnson Controls and QNX Software Systems from Harman International.

Systems based on Microsoft Auto are available in Fiat Group vehicles in Europe and South America, as well as in 12 Ford models in North America.

Microsoft Auto will first appear in Hyundai vehicles in North America in 2010, said Martin Thall, general manager of Microsoft’s automotive business unit. Subsequent versions will give drivers voice control over navigation systems and video entertainment, in addition to cellphones and digital music players.

The Hyundai deal suggests that Microsoft may be achieving the critical mass it needs to encourage other companies to create links to its auto software, in much the same way that third parties create software applications to run on Windows-based PCs.

With millions of potential users, G.P.S. navigation device makers like TomTom and Garmin may start developing software for their products specifically for Ford and Hyundai.

“Microsoft is certainly raising their level of involvement and their competitiveness in the automotive industry,” said Phil Magney, an analyst at the Telematics Research Group. “It makes it one of the top operating systems that automakers must consider in developing their ‘infotainment’ systems.”

Details of the Hyundai deal were not available Monday. But Mr. Magney noted that revenue from the automotive systems was minuscule compared with other areas of Microsoft’s business.

So the goal of becoming the software standard for cars is largely strategic, creating new ways to align the company’s various products. One possible example would be using its online mapping and traffic prediction software, called Clearflow, in future versions of Microsoft Auto.

Microsoft Auto has been exclusive to Ford in North America, but that agreement ceases at the end of the year.

“But we still have plans for future versions with Ford” of the Sync system, Mr. Thall said. “It’s an ongoing relationship.”

It also brings the company full circle. Before Microsoft was founded, one of Bill Gates’s early endeavors was Traf-O-Data, a company that computerized traffic counters in the early ’70s.