Tag Archives: Electronics

Automatic Smart Driving Assistant is like Nike FuelBand for your car

Automatic Smart Driving Assistant

The Automatic Smart Driving Assistant tracks and reports on your driving habits…automatically.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

What does it actually do?
The Automatic Smart Driving Assistant and its companion smartphone app aim to make monitoring your vehicle’s performance as simple as monitoring your personal performance with a Fitbit or Nike FuelBand. As you drive, the Automatic sensor monitors your fuel economy, acceleration, deceleration, and speed. At the end of each week, Automatic compiles all of this data via the app and assigns a driving score. At the end of each trip, the app also compares your fuel economy with the EPA estimated values for your particular vehicle and lets you know how much the trip cost you using real-time fuel prices.

Meanwhile, it’s also tracking and logging your GPS position and can show you individual trips and routes on a map to let you know where you’ve been and how you got there. (This can be useful for helping drivers to learn their driving habits and in planning to possibly combine future trips.) At the end of each trip, Automatic also automatically logs the GPS position of your parked car so you can navigate back to your ride.

In the event that your car throws a Check Engine light, Automatic and its app will allow users to download the trouble code that caused the light to illuminate and automatically search an online database to explain what that code means and whether you should see a mechanic. In the event that the code was caused by something simple, such as a missing fuel cap, Automatic will also allow the user to clear the code and the Check Engine light.

Finally, should Automatic’s built-in accelerometer detect that you’ve been in a crash, the app can automatically contact emergency 911 services with your name, current location, and vehicle description. In the event that that crash was just a really, really big pothole, you can cancel the emergency call with the app on your smartphone.

How is this different from other OBD-II readers?
One of the problems that many users have with other fuel economy monitors or diagnostic devices is that they require quite a bit of know-how and inputting of parameters to get them working properly. (I’d wager that three of five people that I know don’t even know their vehicle’s engine displacement.) Even I have a hard time tweaking most OBD readers to accurately report fuel economy for CNET’s poor Chevrolet Aveo test car.

Automatic Smart Driving Assistant

The Automatic unit plugs into your vehicle’s OBD-II port. For most users, setup ends there.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

Like those fitness devices mentioned earlier, the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant pairs with the Apple iPhone 4S and 5 via a Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy connection, to preserve as much of your handset’s precious battery life as possible. There’s not much setup involved, Automatic’s designers have aimed at making the system as plug-and-play as possible. Simply plug the device into your car’s diagnostics port, pair the device with the app running on your smartphone and (if your vehicle isn’t automatically recognized as many will be) scan your car’s VIN bar code to automatically calibrate the device using an online database for the most accurate reading from your car without having to know anything about your car.

Do I really need another driving distraction?
One other way that Automatic distinguishes itself from other fuel economy monitors and diagnostic devices is that it does its thing automatically and without interaction from the driver. When you enter the vehicle, the Automatic and your phone automatically pair and the app automatically starts logging your location, driving habits, and fuel usage. The phone can stay in your pocket or can be used for other purposes, such as navigation, hands-free calling, or audio streaming to a car stereo without interrupting the process. Later, when you’re not driving and are ready to look at the data, it will all be there in the app.

Users can set audible alerts for high speeds and sudden acceleration or deceleration, often symptoms of inefficient driving. When the Automatic senses any of these conditions with either its built-in accelerometer or speed sensor, it can sound a beep with its built-in speaker. If audible alerts are disabled, the Automatic and its app can still log these events for viewing alongside the rest of the fuel economy and driving data later.

When can I get one and for how much?
The Automatic Smart Driving Assistant is available for preorder on Automatic Labs’ Web site for $69.95. The device will ship with iPhone 4S and 5 compatibility in May 2013. Android compatibility for select Bluetooth Low Energy-capable handsets will be added in the fall. For a projected list of those Android devices that will be supported, see Automatic’s Web site.

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Hitachi’s Ropits mobility robot drives itself

Hitachi demonstrated Ropits in the city of Tsukuba today and plans more tests there soon.

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

Hitachi today unveiled a robot vehicle that can pick up and drop off passengers autonomously. Take that, all you old-fashioned driver-dependent personal mobility devices.

The tiny, single-seat Ropits (Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System) is meant to travel on sidewalks, or even be used indoors for getting in and out of elevators.

Hitachi’s new Ropits mobility robot: Driver, what driver?

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s equipped with GPS to find its way and relies on cameras and 2D and 3D laser distance sensors to avoid obstacles (sometimes also known as pedestrians) and slow down in narrow spaces. Gyro sensors help it stay upright on uneven surfaces.

Passengers climb into Ropits through a front hatch and specify their destination via a touch-screen
tablet interface. Ropits takes it from there. In case of emergencies, riders can control the vehicle with a joystick located in the cockpit.

Hitachi demonstrated Ropits in the Japanese city of Tsukuba and says it’s aimed at the elderly and those who have difficulty walking. It’s also easy to imagine it taking off as a next-generation Segway for the urban crowd, though there’s no word yet on when you might be dodging the 450-pound device on a sidewalk near you.

Hitachi says additional trials of Ropits will be held in Tsukuba (considered a high-tech “science city”) to improve the device’s ability to serve as an autonomous transporter of people and goods. The company plans to further detail the technology at the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers Conference on Robotics and Mechatronics in May.

Powered by a lithium ion battery, the little vehicle can travel at speeds of 3.7 mph and reportedly reach its destination with error margins of up to 3 feet. Why am I suddenly imagining people sitting on porches in Japan yelling, “Hey, Ropits, get off my lawn”?

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Abe Lincoln’s patent for a river navigation device

In 1849, Abraham Lincoln received U.S. Patent No. 6469 for his invention meant to help riverboats clear obstructions.

On March 10, 1849, eight score and four years ago yesterday, a future president brought forth on this continent a new notion for improving river navigation.

That was the day Abraham Lincoln filed a patent application for his imaginative method of “Buoying Vessels Over Shoals.”

The cover of a March 1924 issue of Popular Mechanics detailing Abraham Lincoln’s invention.

CBS News)

At age 22, Lincoln had been a crewman on a flatboat that got stuck on a dam at New Salem, Ill., a bit of Lincoln folklore depicted in the 1940 film “Abe Lincoln in Illinois,” with Raymond Massey in the starring role.

After another riverboat grounding incident in 1848 when he was serving as a congressman, Lincoln got to work.

As his law partner William Herndon later wrote: “Continual thinking on the subject of lifting vessels over sand bars and other obstructions in the water suggested to him the idea of inventing an apparatus for this purpose.”

And so the next year came Lincoln’s solution: a ship equipped with chambers along the side that could be lowered into the water and inflated like balloons to lift the vessel over the obstruction.

Just two months after filing his application, Lincoln received approval, making him the only U.S. president ever to have received a patent.

Sadly, however, even Herndon thought the whole contraption to be impractical. And in the end, the only one ever built was Lincoln’s scale model, which now sits in the Smithsonian Institution… high and dry.

This story originally appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning.”

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Blow then start: The future of alcohol & driving. CNET On Cars, Episode 13


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We have the best from the Geneva Motor Show in this episode, including LaFerrari, Lamborghini’s Veneno and the Corvette Stingray convertible.

Car Tech 101 explains “connected cars”, which is a term that has come to mean a lot of things. You’ll understand them all.

Cooley blows hard into the current in-car booze detectors, but then shows you the future that may put alcohol lockout tech in every car: A federal initiative called DADSS that would radically change the state of alcohol and driving.

And if you’ve been envious of the latest car tech we show you here at CNET, this episode’s Top 5 is just for you: How to put the latest tech in your current car.

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Volvo XC60 makes collision prevention standard

If the 2013 Volvo XC60 is any indication, the Swedish automaker’s first five years under the thumb of the Chinese company Geely has not changed a thing where it comes to product. The XC60, a mid-size SUV, retains the styling and technology course began under previous owner Ford.

Both owners have let Volvo be Volvo, which means building premium-quality, safety-conscious vehicles.

The exit of Ford may, however, have caused the stagnation of Volvo’s cabin electronics, which have not progressed much in the last five years. Although the XC60 does a solid job with the basics, such as navigation and Bluetooth phone support, connected features are limited to traffic data integrated with the navigation system.

Volvo just announced it is partnering with Parrot to offer an Android-based
head unit
, but we have yet to see how well that integration will
work out.

Where Volvo has pushed the envelope is in driver assistance technology, most effectively demonstrated by the XC60’s standard City Safety feature. This system relies on cameras to identify vehicles and pedestrians, and will slam on the brakes if it senses an imminent collision. City Safety actually prevents collisions at speeds under 20 mph; at higher speeds it will still brake, mitigating the damage.

As a safety technology, it’s a good one, as it can prevent pedestrian deaths and costly vehicle repairs.

Volvo also offers driver assistance features such as adaptive cruise control and a blind spot monitor, but they were not optioned on the XC60 T6 Platinum trim car delivered to CNET.

The T6 appellation on this XC60 meant it came with a turbocharged 3-liter, six-cylinder engine, a step up from the base model with its naturally-aspirated 3.2-liter six-cylinder. The really interesting things about this powerplant are that it is an inline six-cylinder, and that it mounts transversely under the hood.

That configuration supports the car’s front-wheel-drive platform, although all T6 models come standard with all-wheel-drive. This all-wheel-drive system offers no driver controls, such as a differential lock, instead automatically shifting torque between front and rear depending on which wheels have grip.

Clever but confusing
The Platinum trim on this car brought in Volvo’s cabin electronics suite, including navigation and an upgraded audio system. The navigation system maps look good, with a nice, clean design. Stored in flash memory, the maps render quickly on the small LCD, and I never noticed the system having a problem locating the car’s position, even among urban towers or in the woods.

However, figuring out how to enter addresses, use the stereo, or make phone calls will cause some trouble. Volvo has a very baffling cabin electronics interface.

2013 Volvo XC60

This interface is not the most intuitive to use, but actually works pretty well.

Josh Miller/CNET)

The center panel holds a keypad, function buttons, and traditional volume and tuning dials. The tuning dial includes buttons labeled OK/Menu and Exit.

With the radio screen on the LCD, the tuning dial works traditionally, changing stations. But with the map on the screen, the tuning dial turns into a zoom function. Tapping the OK/Menu button brings up a destination entry screen, where the tuning dial selects entry fields.

Volvo cleverly uses the one dial for many functions, but it can be confusing, at least initially.

Choosing the street address destination option led me to the alphanumeric input for street and city names, using a rotary paradigm on the screen, again controlled by the tuning dial. Rotary inputs are particularly tedious when entering long names, but Volvo offers a couple of shortcuts. I found I could tap the keypad, which would bring up each button’s three associated letters, kind of like texting using a non-smartphone.

Voice command proved even easier, although I had to speak each part of the address, such as street and number, separately. The system also tended to give me multiple choices for each voice input, adding steps to the process.

2013 Volvo XC60

This rotary interface makes entering letters very tedious.

Josh Miller/CNET)

The system’s route guidance delivered clear turn-by-turn directions, and even showed lane guidance on the LCD in easy-to-read graphics. At one point, when I got off route, it took a surprisingly long time to recalculate, but most times it worked just fine.

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Wait, Subarus start themselves without your permission?

One of the affected vehicles.


The adoration of Subarus has passed me by.

To me, they seem like very efficient mailboxes, driven exclusively by people who want to prevent the world from coming to a swifter end.

However, my mind is being altered by the notion that these
cars are actually possessed of their own consciousness.

As evidence, may I reveal that 47,419 of them are being recalled, in order to be lobotomized and returned to their former passive state.

As USA Today recalls it, dropping the key fob on many Subarus released from 2010 to 2013 causes them to come to life.

Spontaneously. Willfully. Perhaps even in the middle of the night.

The key fob, you see, has a built-in remote starter. When it bangs its little head on the ground, it might begin to behave erratically.

There is more than one type of remote engine starter and the one affected is the Audiovox, which is attached to 2010-2013 Outbacks and Legacys, 2012 and 2013 Imprezas, and 2013 XV Crosstreks.

Clearly, it can be very annoying if your car starts up and stays on until the battery dies.

But, if we are to expect cars to be self-driving, there’s something quite fascinating about them having characters of their own.

Imagine your car going into a sulk, if it feels you’ve been treating it a little boisterously of late.

Or, even better, what if your car refused to start because you hadn’t washed it?

Just as we are turning into machines, there is something glorious about our machines becoming ever more human.

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