Sunday, February 26, 2006

#18: "All speed, no limit...?"


The information herein is a little out of date, but I'm posting it for course-related reasons. It's been "subbed" by third-parties (which is actually fairly amusing in places - slight over-obsession with the Guardian's anti-hyphenation make-two-words-one drive, chaps?) and is as they left it. Hopefully more will become clear later in the week.


"So, the government has finally decided that boxes on a stick aren’t the be all and end all of road safety; they’re throttling back from the proposed camera onslaught. Hoo-bloody-rah! The question is: what’s next? A change to the national motorway speed limit, perhaps…

No, hold on - this isn’t what you’re thinking.

Seriously, it isn’t. I may well have been on an extremely lightly trafficked M1 the other night, physically restraining my right foot - but I am so far from advocating upping the 70mph restriction I may as well face the accusations of Greenpeace membership right now.

I so wanted to do it - straight-six the road at maximum velocity - but I couldn’t. They’ve won. Via a process of intimidation and propaganda ‘the message’ has undoubtedly gotten through, in the form of four distinct thought processes to stop me: social responsibility; fear for my license; the cost of petrol/the end of the planet; and the great big unpredictable unknown of my fellow road users - I’ve got far too much imagination to ignore the possibility of someone pulling out in front of me without having first looked in their mirror.

The intriguing thing about the contemporary status of our high-speed road network is that somehow it works. That’s possibly a little bit of a controversial argument, so I should explain what I mean. Ignoring the congestion, the poor lane discipline and the unnecessary journeys, consider the speed limit itself. It’s 70mph, right - yet everyone knows that it is practical and safe to travel faster than that, and those who feel comfortable with this paradox quite happily do. Assuming the circumstances aren’t absurd or unsafe you’d realistically be unlucky to get pulled over by a traffic police officer at any speed less than about 85 or even 90mph. You can’t be sure about this, but it’s a pretty solid bet.

And that’s why the current system is so successful - we have a legal limit, and an accepted ‘limit’. There is no doubt that the vast majority of vehicles on our roads today are more than capable of safely travelling at speeds well in excess of 70mph. Driving quickly demands more of your concentration - the more you concentrate, the safer you should be. I usually feel much better about the guy or girl who passes me at 80 plus on the outside than I do about the individual dozing at less than 60 in the centre lane with empty carriageway inside of them. I’m pretty sure I could accurately guess which of them was paying greater attention, nine times out of ten.

Ok, so it’s only my personal estimation between me and an unwelcome interaction with a crash barrier - but I believe we have an acceptable status quo.

The problem for the government is that this is a status quo where a law is being broken.

That’s a difficult situation for any government to be in, even if we do have one of the safest motorway networks in Europe. They’ve tried to increase the enforcement, but when the modus operandi is as aggravating as the Gatso it’s hardly surprising that this nearly ended in tears. Put too much pressure on the public as they go about their daily lives and you risk your re-election no matter how nasty the habit. Imagine trying to outlaw tobacco – selfinflicted death in a tube, but built into the routine of millions of people. Impossible.

Make like the cigarettes then, and antiillegalise speeding by raising the limit. But there is a big, big problem with this. You can’t just raise the limit - because if the limit was, say, 80mph, more people would make the decision to do 95 or 100 as that no longer represents as big a leap from the upper boundary as before. Given that some people will go faster - in order to overtake, to simply be in front - the speeds get greater, and the risks run higher. No matter how good my guesswork might be, the driver remains the weakest link, and this amplifies the odds of anything ending with an ouch.

Leaving the limit alone and lessening the lens action? Sounds like more of the same, doesn’t it - except I’d like to make a suggestion. Take all the money currently being spent on Polaroid film or whatever and invest in policing instead.

Proper policing by well trained officers in clearly marked cars, making rational judgments, based on actual circumstances represents an opportunity for safe progress and real life to exist in an ambiguous harmony. And ambiguity in this instance is great because it makes the average motorist err on the side of caution, rather than aggressively making time between the camera sites they know as their definite antagonists. Give us a police presence, but not a police state - is that kind of balance really so hard to achieve?"


Image is from: www.echt-wichtig.de - awesome stuff.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

T#18: Big wheeling

You might surmise from this it's proving to be a long week. And in case I don't get time to mention it in it's own post (a very real possibility at the moment):

I'M OFF TO THE GENEVA MOTORSHOW ON MONDAY.

I have press accreditation and everything - very excited. Ahem. Anyways, thank you.



Big wheeling

Ok, ok – so I know this has, in fact, been Done To Death. But. I figured, what the hell, stick an oar in – my site, my opinion, and all that. Plus, I have a final few nuggets of information gleaned from “Keith” the Jaguar engineer.

So, wheels. Alloy wheel – big ones. We all know how good they look – which is why they end up on the cars in the first place (via the design sketch. And the marketing department). We also all probably know a number of detrimental things about them, right…

Contrary to popular blaster belief, bigger wheels generally do not improve vehicle handling – more on this in a moment, but basically, they add weight and remove ride comfort. In case that requires further explanation: more metal means more mass for the suspension to control, and; lower profile rubber reduces the bump absorbency added to the ride by the pneumatic cushion that doubles as the tyre. Changing the rolling diameter (i.e. by upping the wheel size) also impacts on the accuracy of the instruments, and is probably catastrophic for the environment, too. I’m kidding about that last part. But, Hey! They look good.

And this is the thing – they do look good. So where’s the sensible solution, or compromise? Magazine’s (Evo’s a good example, but they’re not alone) are increasingly flagging up the difference the optional increased alloy-size makes to the ride comfort of the vehicle they’re testing. Off the top of my head, this has been a notable issue for the last generation BMW M3, and the new Mini, though Audi hasn’t escaped criticism either (and we all know how fantastically exciting those look running the maximum possible rimmage). What exactly is the excuse for this?

There is a matter of expense, but why isn’t this a problem of the past? The weight issue is resolvable – better materials and improved construction can make larger diameter wheels at least as light as their smaller circumferenced brethren. Lighter weight means improved efficiency – the cost differential will pay for itself. Hold on, you’re thinking, wasn’t that VW’s reasoning behind the 3Litre car – and exactly how many people bought that? Basic error in that instance: the 3L was a stripped out Lupo, whereas the alloy is all about style. People will pay for this – especially if you frame it as a performance enhancement.

As for the ride issue, surely suspension technology is sufficiently sophisticated by now that taking the bounce out of the tyre isn’t an impossibility? In fact, wouldn’t minimising this variable actually improve ride control? Take the inconsistency – which will change with type and brand – out of the tyre by making it as small a part of the ride equation as possible; if the tyre variable hardly exists you can tune the suspension to act with greater accuracy and consistency. Or maybe I’m just talking nonsense. I suppose at least the local alloy “reconditioning” service will thank me the first time you curb the dubs on your Kia Picanto…

Alright, that’s enough from me; time for some thoughts from “Keith” on this subject.

First up, he was very keen to stress exactly how much tyre choice has an impact on a car’s handling. Those four little tiny contact patches – the rubber you use for those probably make more difference to the way your car behaves than anything else. Car manufacturers specify a particular tyre for a reason, because it best suits the ride/handling balance of their vehicle, in relation to the market it’s aimed at.

However, it goes further than that, because often the car maker will specify a tyre to its own OEM requirements. Meaning that the tyre you buy off the shelf at the local fitters most likely won’t be exactly the same as the one the car rolled out of the factory on, even if it is wearing all the same badges. Apparently, this doesn’t often come down to differences in compound but car companies can and will ask for sidewalls and banding to be altered to the benefit of a particular vehicle. Is this cheating? It certainly seems a bit pointless if the tyre that makes your car work best is not going to be easily available later on.

He also hinted at how engineers are put under pressure by their marketing department in order to get cars to accommodate bigger rims and wider tyres. This comes back to the public perception that bigger wheels not only look better, but go better too – the car rides harder, so it must be sportier, right? And as for the tyre width, while it is obviously worse to under-tyre a vehicle than to over tyre it, there are circumstances where wider tyres can actually reduce grip instead of improving it. Over-tyring a car can wreck the handling, inducing understeer, tramlining and general lack of pointiness. March’s Octane magazine has an article on the early 90s Corvette, and it notes how the width of the front wheels were reduced over its lifetime – starting at 275 section, reducing all the way to 245.

So, in short: consumers, stick to the manufacturer’s recommended boots; manufacturers, get around to engineering a proper solution to such stylistic excess – go on, make us all happy.


Links:

T#16: Driver aids? [internal]

Driver Aids? Post Script [internal]

Evo magazine

Octane magazine


Picture, by pure coincidence is via a post made by Jalopnik today. That car is currently for sale on eBay. Click here for more photos...and even a short video. I daren't say anything else.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Gizmodo...nice

I'd give my arm for a mobile phone.

And, hack your Prius.


It's going to be a pretty busy couple of weeks for me, so I was thinking I am quite likely to be running on minimal posts for a while. That said of course, a couple of things popped up on Gizmodo today.

First off:

Car Crash Victim's Arm Found, Cellphone Intact

The title says it all really; when they found the severed arm of a woman who flipped an SUV out in Lexington, Kentucky, they discovered it to be still clutching the mobile phone she'd been using at the time of the crash. She, and her daughter - who was also in the car - both survived the incident. I believe it was a Gizmodo commentator on another thread who suggested that airbags should be set to deactivate upon detection of a mobile phone signal...

Then, this is cool:

Mac Prius

Coming via Gizmodo again, this is the webpage of a guy who has hooked the touchscreen in his Toyota Prius up to a Mac Powerbook - all in the name of enabling his daughter to watch dvds while they drive. Hacking computers into existing car user interfaces is a neat trick - I bet there's a serious market for improving on the original iterations of BMW's iDrive. I wonder if somebody has beaten me to it?


Links:

Car Crash Victim's Arm Found, Cellphone Intact @ Gizmodo

Mac Prius [via Prius Running OSX @ Gizmodo]


Picture via a Microsoft press site.

#17: Eye eye


There aren’t many magazines in the waiting room at eye casualty. That makes a certain stark kind of sense, when you think about it. I think there was one when I was in there on Friday; it’s the sort of thing you notice when you’re really not sure how worried you should be but can’t help fearing for the worst.

Ok, so I am being a little melodramatic. There is no unhappy ending here as such – otherwise I’d be having a great deal more trouble typing this entry than is presently the case. After giving me something to dilate my pupils, and sitting me in an examination room where I could overhear another patient discussing his cornea grafts (I AM squeamish, and I’m happy to admit as such given that it usually prevents me from having to sit through horror movies and/or Plastic Surgery Live!, or whatever), a presumably very highly qualified chap had a good poke around with a couple of different kinds of really bright light and declared that if anything was in fact wrong then it certainly wasn’t obvious.

This came – unsurprisingly – as something of a relief. To say that it is disconcerting when your vision starts playing silly buggers for no apparent reason at all is a bit of an understatement; bad for anyone no doubt, but even more so when you’re as prone to thinking things over in as minute detail as I am. I moved swiftly from what the bloody hell is going on here to argh, what on earth am I going to do with my life if I go blind in literally the blink of an eye. Ahem.

So, it turns out that occasional moments where it seems as if I’ve been staring at a light when I haven’t, and an accompanying slight lapse of the focussing front are issues that I have nothing to worry about. I’m not sure I should really be revealing this sort of thing on a website that is intended to make me attractive to potential employers, but needless to say I will be heading to my regular optician for a second opinion just as soon as I can make it to Bournemouth; the relevance is in that tendency of mine to think these things through a little too much – the loss of something so fundamental to me as my vision seems as worthy a topic for discussion as any in this regard. Even if such a loss is realistically unlikely.

Imagine it – imagine if you lost your sight: what would it mean for your everyday life. I am, as a casual perusal of the other elements of this page should define, currently having a go at making myself into a motoring journalist. If I were to experience some kind of temporary or permanent vision loss that would be the end of all hope, wouldn’t it? I mean, I was worried. But then I considered it a little more, and wondered instead whether it wouldn’t inadvertently carve out a niche for me – I mean, how many other motoring journalists do you know of who are vision impaired?

This isn’t as silly as it may sound (and it is certainly not meant to be disparaging to any the genuinely blind). Ok, so if my sight was permanently damaged it would bring a number of disadvantages, sure, but would it actually mean game over?

Biggest problem – worst case scenario: I would no longer be able to actually drive a car. This isn’t as crippling (er, euw to the word choice?) as it sounds; there is a motoring correspondent who writes for one of the big daily broadsheets who does not hold a driving license – I’m not being funny and that’s not an urban myth, it’s true. I bet he gets the sort of looks I usually get when I tell people I don’t drink alcohol (no, really, I am a student – honestly). But anyway, so not being able to drive the car isn’t necessarily a deal breaking issue – however, I would miss it. That wouldn’t be fun.

Another thing that wouldn’t be fun – not being able to see what the vehicle looks like, either. Although this would spare me the entire current Peugeot range, it would also mean missing out on any passing Aston Martin, or the latest offering from Pagani. For the sake of impartiality, however, this might be a boon; testing would be genuinely “blind” – meaning that interior plastics really would get appreciated for quality and feel, and ride comfort (unfortunately, handling would be rather difficult to assess) judged only on ability rather than expectation. Ease of access, the user friendliness of controls, the depth of talent devoted to ergonomics – all of these things would suddenly take on an added dimension of importance. In other words, the elements of car design that matter the most to the average buyer…

A timely reminder, then, of what is worth keeping in mind – even if I do still have full use of my facilities. For which I am very, very thankful.

Friday, February 17, 2006

T#: 17

I suppose that someone may be wondering where post T#: 17 is...so I should explain that not only did the internet decide it wasn't going to work last night (a minor consideration in the circumstances) but rather more significantly I'm experiencing some "issues" with my eyesight. I'm off to find an optician shortly, so hopefully this is something that will quickly be rectified.

My apologies for the inconvenience. Normal service is to be resumed. I hope.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Cleaner than it'll ever be again

Well, it had to happen eventually.

In this instance it's because our cars are going on the front cover of our magazine, but finally my BM has gotten a t-cut and a polish. So I figured I ought to commemorate the occasion by putting it on here.

Just want to say a big:

THANKS GUYS!

to my coursemates, who helped out with polishing and stuff - and especially Graeme, whose cleaning products you can see scattered around in the photos.

#16:

Post removed due to content clash.

Friday, February 10, 2006

More on the Freestream T1


Well, this is interesting.

Popped up on Newspress a couple of days ago, though for reasons that will shortly become clear I have been unable to write it up until now. It's PR number 2 from Freestream regarding the 1000bhp/tonne T1, the second in as many days.

It reveals not only more exact details of the car's specification, but also spots a certain weakness that a few commentators have attempted to exploit in criticism of the startup - and welds it shut. Or bonds it tight. Whatever you do with carbon fibre.

The issues surround the big figure claims - the power-to-weight ratio and the price, both apparently appearing impossible to some people, albeit in opposite directions. For the former, Freestream is keen to point out the amount of analysis they did in attempting to identify the optimum crossover point between the power of the engine and the weight of the chassis: too light and you risk building a car that is uncrashworthy and extremely costly; too heavy and you end up requiring ridiculous amounts of power, which is no use for achievable weight, cooling, or packaging parameters.

As project co-founder Graham Halstead puts it:

'You can deliver higher engine outputs up to 1000bhp and beyond but that means more weight, which adds significant cost and complexity to the car. Conversely, a 300bhp-per-300kg approach can severely compromise crash worthiness because of insufficient structural mass. An extremely lightweight approach can cause costs to spiral through the use of exotic materials. And less horsepower means a restricted top speed and aerodynamic performance.'
The other half of the pairing, Ben Scott-Geddes, sticks it even harder to the doubters:
'Concept vehicles are ten-a-penny and this is more than a one-off prototype. The only way to truly convince car makers that we have the experience and skills to design and engineer a safe, reliable, cost-efficient albeit high-performance car is to actually design and build one. We then have something to discuss.'
While this seems to suggest that they're bidding for work with established players rather than attempting to break an extremely competitive market with a new brand, Freestream also talk of targetting the trackday hardcore who are seeking an ultra-fast road-going racetrack tool. The projected cost is underlined as £150,000, and it is claimed they will meet this by specifying material based on a cost/performance analysis; there's no carbon fibre suspension, for example, as lightweight steel is better for the job given the value.

Those tech details you were after? Try these:

The engine is a bespoke, supercharged 2.4 litre V8, engineered to meet a drivetrain design target of less than 100kg - and weighing in at 85kg. This is coupled to a six-speed sequential gearbox, which is again bespoke - featuring a magnesium casing and a weight in the region of 30kg. The monocoque's a carbon/aluminium honeycomb, with composite crash protection and aerospace grade steel for the rear subframe.

A 0-100mph in less than 5 seconds is the latest performance aim, which fits nicely with talk of 3g cornering performance and an approximate balance of 500bhp to 500kg target power-to-weight.

The image above is again an official rendering. Still loving the looks. However, the PR's opening line -
'As the world’s first road car to exceed 1,000bhp-per-tonne the Freestream T1 is perhaps bound to grab the headlines' - does rather rely on them getting themselves together before Project 1221 provides an actual working demonstrator for "everyone" to see.

Either way, the supercar scene is especially juicy just at the moment. Only thing to say is an inadequate sounding: Awesome...


Links:

Freestream T1: 1000bhp/tonne [internal]

T#11: The Veyron, the Murray, and the Project [internal]

#9: Project 1221 [internal]

Freestream Cars, official website

Project 1221, official website

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Driver Aids? Post Script


That previous entry was getting to be so long that I nearly put it in blue. But that colour is kind of hard to read unless you've got the brightness on your tft turned right up like I have, so I decided against it.

However, that should in no way lead you to conclude that this post script is an accidental ommission, tacked on to cover an oversight; I am more or less fully in control of my cognitive functions here...

Getting to the point:

You might have spotted that I used a picture of the new Jaguar XK at an angle of travel unsuitable for the average road user, while also referring to "Keith" the Jaguar engineer voicing the concern that there's too much oversteer in automotive journalism and not enough real world.

You see, that's the thing. With all this controversy surrounding ever-so-clever over-the-top unnecessary electronics - whether it be the anti-ESP mentality or the perfectly rational fear (well, I would say that) of Hondas handling themselves - there's the danger that genuinely innovative technological advances get overlooked.

The Jaguar is relevent (before you start thinking this is some kind of viral advertising campaign check out this entry). Because Jaguar are innovative at the moment, and the decent part of me is slightly worried that lots of people are missing this, and it is not something for which this company should suffer. They are using lightweight materials (even if this has been stunted somewhat by styling described as "classical" at best) and clever construction techniques; but more than that they have a couple of geeky goodies that no-one else had thought of yet:
  • active engine mounts, and;
  • the exploding bonnet.
Keith the engineer was responsible for the first of these, and it may not sound much but how often do engine mounts get a mention in the press? And, no I don't mean this webpage - the innovation here has completely redefined expectations of diesel refinement with their application on the XJ saloon. It's a great achievement, and one that shouldn't be swamped by being surrounded by self parking systems and Accords with autopilot.

As for the exploding bonnet, this is the radical pedestrial safety system on the XK that uses an explosive charge to pop the bonnet up in the event of an unplanned interaction with a pedestrian. It cushions said biped's impact with the engine block that would otherwise require several inches of clearance between it and the outter surfacing of the vehicle. Thus saving us all from safety legislation that threatened to make modern cars even uglier than their designers want them to be.

Keep this stuff in mind. It's never all bad.


Links:

T#16: Driver Aids? [internal]

Jaguar Marketing Dept. (Take 2) [internal]


Picture is another XK Press Shot, via Newspress. Real preeedy...

T#16: Driver Aids?


This is fun, in a way – though possibly a little dangerous also. Having reached 100 posts on Tuesday I’ve gotten to the point now that there’s so much stuff on here it’s increasingly possible for me to be self-referential. For example, I have previously expressed the opinion – albeit on a wholly unrelated topic – that if we the motoring public do not start taking the initiative and sorting some of the road related problems of our own creation, then someone else will come along and do it for us.

Full disclosure: I see this as A Bad Thing.

Unfortunately we’re collectively a lazy bunch of buggers (which possibly explains why socialism never caught on in this country), and it seems that actually quite a substantial proportion of us rather fancy the idea of not having to do things ourselves: a trend which the auto-manufacturers are latching onto like a winkle loves a wet rock. A colleague of mine described this as rain sensing wipers syndrome, but those are really rather harmless in comparison…

What we’re starting to get now is the subtle but definite extraction of vehicle control away from the unknowable impulses of the driver and into the electronic exactness of the machine. As with life in general, however, this isn’t exactly absolute in terms of good and bad – there are certain advantages in technological advancement that deserve recognition even while there are others that should be avoided for the sake of free will and liberty.

Tom Wolf’s fictionalised recounting of the burgeoning days of the American space program, The Right Stuff, vividly demonstrates the difference in priorities between the scientists and the astronauts. For the scientists, putting something into space was a matter of pure technology, and they developed systems that could theoretically do the job of getting up and down by themselves. It didn’t matter what was in the capsule – spaceman, monkey, dog, whatever. The astronauts, who were all pilots by training, seeing the threat this potentially posed to their status were all out against fully automated flight – they wanted to be able to control the spacecraft themselves regardless of the catastrophe in stasis this represented, where even a momentary lapse could end in flaming hell in the upper echelons of the atmosphere. The scientists (and the government behind them) wanted to protect their valuable science and engineering-stuffed spacecraft, the astronauts wanted to play chicken with their lives – on a giant thrill ride, yes, but in a greater sense it was about upholding the fundamental human value of freedom.

It’s this kind of circumstance that’s beginning to replicate with increasing velocity on the road. Complicating things somewhat, however, is that here we’re dealing not with highly-trained air force pilots, but the general public – to say this skews things slightly is probably one of the biggest understatements I’ll utter all year.

Some of the technology currently found in motor vehicles is now probably indispensable: ABS, traction control, stability systems, maybe even airbags if you want to go that far. We had occasion to speak to a Jaguar engineer earlier in the week, and one of the things he was critical about of current automotive journalism is the focus on finding ways of switching these electronic aids off; the “nannying” electronics, is the oft heard derision. Jaguar man’s – I’ll call him Keith – point was that really for the average motorist, journalism should be concerned with reviewing the way cars behave with this stuff in place, not at several degrees of socially irresponsible opposite lock.

I’ve got to say that I have been guilty of taking this attitude towards such instruments of progress. Mercedes Benz I have particularly derided for their massively high power outputs when combined with chassis that are overwhelmed and undriveable with the stability systems switched off. The anti-electronics argument runs the line that these artificial assistants are preventing people from learning how to drive properly. While I have a great deal of sympathy for this perspective, as someone who has spun a not very powerful rear-wheel drive car at less than 30mph on an icy winter morning (and ended up facing the wrong way down a dual carriageway; not actually as exciting as it sounds), I feel I can see both sides pretty clearly.

The one side says, with more experience I could perhaps have corrected the slide and recovered the spin – though the particular situation is complicated slightly by the fact that there was a vehicle on the inside of me at the time, and I didn’t want risk turning into it; the other suggests that had the car been fitted with traction and/or stability control, it would have solved the problem for me – though, again, in this instance it’s difficult to be sure as the surface was so slick I left no skid marks at all, even when nerfing the railings head-on. So, perhaps fundamental driving techniques can be considered vital either way, but in reality as a general rule (dubious, I know) the average driver is probably better off and safer with these electronic nursemaids than without. Even Gordon Murray – a man famous for his advocacy of unfettered driving purity – has swung round to this opinion, as a recent column of his in Evo makes out.

But – haha, did you spot that one? – there is a point where this assistance begins to go too far. Recent innovations – of which Siemens VDO’s version, currently doing the rounds on the net, is the latest – in parking technology are an example. Parking sensors I’ll maybe let go; I can understand anyone not really wishing to unintentionally restyle their rear bumper, especially when many modern car designs make it difficult to determine their exact length from inside (though I’m less certain about the need for ones which are audible outside of the vehicle – Toyota Corolla – and the dangers involved in over-reliance are again available in situations such as when one manufacturer accidentally applied too thick a layer of paint to a batch of super-minis and the systems simply failed to work. Oh, and this might actually be a good thing for some of the fugly aftermarket bodykits currently in fashion).

However, the Siemens’ thing goes a stage further, and is a series of sensors and other unnecessary bulk-upping bumf that will locate a suitably sized space and parallel park the car in it for you. Lexus and BMW already have such toys on some of their top-end executive barges – the fun thing about the BM system though is that you do get to control the throttle. But is this really necessary – I mean, really? Diminishing driving skill even further all for the sake of the effort involved in picking a big enough gap and slotting your car into it. Sheesh.

More significantly, there’s now the really fabulous Honda ADAS. The official press release fails to explain it (seriously), but ADAS stands for Advanced Driver Assist System, combining Active Cruise Control (ACC) and Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) to create a car with autopilot. It only works on motorways and roads with strongly laned carriageways, but using a millimetre wave radar in the nose and a camera by the rearview mirror the top-spec Accord – coming in March – can drive itself.

Amazing.

But very very scary. Honda claims it actually ups concentration and awareness, and that the car is never fully out of its occupant’s control – a beep reminds the driver that a tap on the steering wheel is required every 10 seconds or the system will disengage… disengage? Yes, exactly. As someone who is fully able to hit the snooze button on his alarm clock while barely even registering its insistence, I fear that there is something of an obvious flaw in this otherwise seamlessly utopian vision: what happens if the driver falls asleep?

I appreciate this is a danger in motorway driving anyway, but activity surely increases alertness; with no scientific proof to support me I am none-the-less prepared to speculate that part of the reason Honda’s study shows an increase in driver focus and capacity is that the sensation is initially so odd. As with anything, surely familiarity breeds contempt (lovely cliché in this instance), and over time concentration will drop. It is a fantastically clever, and evidently successfully executed piece of innovation, but like notorious depressive, sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, I can’t help imagining the consequences should the ingenuity go awry. To quote one of the characters from one of my favourite movies: ‘I dunno, Tom; sounds expensive.’ In a very metallic, noisy kind of way, with – what’s that? An echo of litigation and corporate regret…?

Where does it stop? There’s no way to even begin guessing at the answer to this. Soon we may well be travelling in little more than privately owned train carriages, each car following the other in binary-led, computer controlled precision. The government and the car companies will undoubtedly see this as safer, but another of the freedoms we all so well enjoy will be lost – it’s about time that we stopped taking the privileges involved with driving for granted. The era of the “open road” will otherwise be over, and we might as well stay at home and succumb to the internet’s inevitable ascendancy as the answering prayer to all of our needs. Electronic super highway? There’s a risk of this becoming the literal interpretation of somebody’s dream for us all.

Links:

T#5: Aneurism [internal]

Honda UK Builds an Accord with Autopilot @ DailyTech

Siemens VDO Park Mate to end your parking woes @ Newlaunches.com


Picture is an official Jaguar Press Shot of the XK, via Newspress.

Scumball Dreaming


Scumball, Run to the 'Ring: 1000 miles, in 1000 hours, in a £1000 car

Just wanted this to be post #101 for some reason.

In case you haven't heard about it, this is now (apparently) definitely happening in July. It's the Scumball rally, and it's exactly what it says at the top of the post there - the 'Ring in question being a particularly famous one in Germany.

Anyways, timing permitting, I'm running an entry with a colleague. If the worst comes to the worst we'll take my existing car as it fits the criterion, but the plan is to purchase something a little more suitable. Current schemes surround E30 325i Tourings (yeah! Wicked!), with rollcages instead of backseats, etc, etc...

However, we are open to other suggestions - and are now actively seeking help with: the car search; its preparation; some sponsorship maybe; and even charitable donations.

Further updates will be forthcoming, but should you feel the impulse to give us a hand, please do not hesitate to contact me @

infinityreversed@yahoo.com

No spam please. That's just annoying.


Links:

Scumball, the official website


Picture is the Scumball banner. I'm sure they won't mind.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The 100th Post


Not actually got anything special to put here, but it is a milestone, I guess.

Anyways...

...just found this video in the archives of Jalopnik. Totally whacked-out street driving action with Alexander Roy, benefitting from a little police escort.

On a serious note, is it me or do the Italian police have the coolest looking cop cars in the world. And I don't just mean the Gallardo above (genuine police vehicle, btw. Unlike what Roy's driving, which is just a conniving way of cutting through Bullrun snaffling traffic - go Team Polizei...).

The police driver in this video is completely insane. Well well worth a watch.


Links:

Alex Roy's Police Escort [via Jalopnik's archive] Requires Quicktime


Picture is from a web forum but comes out of Automobilemag.com originally. You can view the forum thread (with additional photos) here.

Honda drops the Hydrogen future

Or maybe not.

I've been big into the idea of hydrogen fuel cells becoming the future form of vehicular motive energy for a while now. But my conviction is starting to wobble.

Recently, I heard about some of the complications regarding the refueling process. Phrases along the lines of "Baghdad bunker-grade concrete shielding" and "fire-suits" were mentioned (I'm not quoting exactly). Not exactly confidence inspiring. And now there's this, and I'm not sure what to think.


Honda is apparently planning to put this, the FCX Fuel Cell vehicle, into production 'within three or four years.' They've been trillions one with a family out in California for quite some time, and the only major issue has been the lack of a refueling infrastructure - a problem that Honda thinks it's got licked thanks to the Home Energy Station. This is a kind of brew your own hydrogen refinery that you set up in your garage; one you can even use to power your household electrics, potential saving you up to 50% in energy bills, Honda claims.

So this sounds way major cool - and the styling concept car looks pretty swish, too. Trouble is that hydrogen might not be all the answer it's made out to be, and this is by its very nature: the fact that it has to be manufactured - which inconveniently seems to still require fossil fuels; and the fears that it might imminently explode. Both these issues have answers - solar or wind powered generation plants, etc; hydrogen in tablet form (which I have written about elsewhere, and may add to the site at some point) - but they are answers "10-15 years away". Hydrogen power is always "10-15 years away"; is it ever actually going to make it?

Well, kudos to Honda for trying anyhow; I don't mean to pour sand on their oil fire...


Links:

Honda FCX Fuel Cell Vehicle to Go Into Production @ Gizmodo

It's worth clicking through the link; the Gizmodo commentators again have some pretty interesting things to say.


Picture is from WorldCarFans.com.

Freestream T1: 1000bhp/tonne

This is much more like it. I spent a few hundred words the other day whinging about retro design, and here is the antidote:


This is the Freestream T1, expected to launch later in the year. Packing a bespoke 480bhp 2.4 litre V8, it's no coincidence that tallies nicely with contemporary Formula 1 regulations - the T1 is intended to be the closest yet to the performance of a road going F1 car. Target weight is a skinny 465kg, skewering the 1000bhp per tonne figure very nicely, but even more impressive are claims surrounding the handling parameters, and to a certain extent the price.

The concept sports a carbon chassis and 'a full aerodynamic performance package which at present can only be found in a high formula racecar' according to Ben Scott-Geddes, one half of the pairing behind the project; co-founder Graham Halstead suggests that as a result 'driver and passenger will experience extremely rapid acceleration as well as 3g cornering and braking performance.' 3g!!

Packing a full compliment of ex-McLaren engineers and team members, previously involved with that company's seminal F1 supercar, the T1 promises spine-shattering agility and the latest tech, all for the actually quite reasonable sounding sum of £150,000. I know - if only I lived on that planet, too. That said, Freestream claim the interest of half-a-dozen potential customers already, and plan to build only 25 cars a year.

The best bit, though, is the spectacularly modern styling shown in the official rendering above - including the first successful integration of an F1 style nose; a much better effort than previous attempts made by McMerc, Ferrari and EOS.

The first prototype is nearly built and they've just moved into new premises. For more info contact them via their website, listed below.

Good luck to them.


Links:

Freestream Cars official website, which is quite fun, and where you can download a pdf brochure.

Official Press Release @ Newspress [membership required]


Ex-McLaren engineers launch 1,000bhp/tonne Freestream T1 car @ Auto Industry

#14: Let's go retro [internal]


Picture is an official press shot rendering of the concept, courtesy of Freestream via Newspress.

Bad, BMW. Bad!

Ahh, this is a good one.

BMW's .de (that's Germany...) website has been blacklisted by Google, and removed from the uber-search engine's listings.

I've spent a good few minutes now trying to imagine why - as one of the world's most recognised automobile brands - you'd feel the need to do so, but those crazy Bavarians apparently concluded their site wasn't quite prominent enough and so engaged in something you might loosely want to describe as a hack. If you're one of those less generous types of people.

The trick is to create a webpage filled with car search keywords - such as 'neuwagen' (yes, that's right: 'new car'), one of BMW's pick. The preponderance of these cons the search engine into listing the site high-up in its rankings so it appears near the beginning of any internet search containing them. But that isn't the bad part; if it was this page that actually appeared to the "consummer" there wouldn't be a problem.

What bmw.de did, however, was write a Java command into the script that makes up this keyword page - known as a 'doorway' - that automatically redirects the viewer's internet browser to an entirely different page. Google regards this practice as a form of spam, and it's a violation of their guidelines concerning misleading users.

BMW has admitted the use of 'doorways', but refuses to accept this is a form of mis-information. But they're going to stay shut out of Google until they fix their sleight-of-electronics ways.

According to the blog that broke the news, ricoh.de are also likely to face the same action. You might think that a blog is nothing to take seriously, but this blog belongs to Matt Cutts, a Google engineer who has quite a reputation for revealing the ins-and-out of the big G. You can view his site here, where you'll find a graphical example of exactly what BMW was up to.


Links:

Ramping up on international webspam @ Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO

Google delists bmw.de @ bit-tech.net

www.bmw.de falls foul of Google @ Auto Industry


Picture from the bit-tech article.

Monday, February 06, 2006

"Jammin'..."


Irk - sorry about that title...

Anyways, following on from his previous effort to annoy all decent road faring folk (hoho), Alexander Roy has an article on Gizmodo concerning laser jammers. You know the sort of thing, designed to prevent your speed from being recorded by a laser-equipped police officer.

Again, as with his previous article about radar detectors, I'm left wondering whether this is one of the most useful things I've read on the internet, or one of the least responsible. The Gizmodo commentators seem equally undecided; you can make your own mind up here.


Links:

World's Greatest... Laser Jammers @ Gizmodo

Gumball says...what?! [internal]


Picture is from The Futurama Point.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

#15: Sorry folks

...no post tonight.

Most of this week is going to be spent putting the magazine together, so I'm getting some down time before losing my eyesight to that.

Promise to make it up to you with lots of news and stuff over the next few days, though!


ir



Thursday, February 02, 2006

T#15: More show than go

Well actually, it might be more accurate to make some sort of Elvis related comment – coz what I really wanted to witter on about is noise.

It is in fact purely coincidental that my upstairs neighbours woke me with dance music at a quarter to four this morning (and they’re BANGING furniture together or something up there as I type this); that’s the first time in ages that it’s happened, and I was already going to pontificate on this subject anyway.

Curious thing noise, especially in relation to cars. I can never understand the connection that some people make – whether it be the tinny sound of their over-extended stereo or the wholly inappropriate rumblings from their exhaust; more specifically it’s the connection between this and some understanding that it’s “good” that alludes me.

I’ve had a couple of funny experiences this week that illustrate my so far fairly vague point. What I’m trying to suggest is that I have no problem with loud cars – stereo, tail pipe, induction or otherwise – so long as the quality matches with the quantity, a subtly different proposition for the music and the mechanicals alluded to above. With a stereo, if you must turn it up, turn it up to a volume where the distortion isn’t the single most defining feature of the casual, unsuspecting audience member’s experience; surely, if it sounds that bad out here, it must be bloody awful in there. And if you do insist on threatening passers-by with your low-end modulation, could you at least take the trouble to stick your trim down properly so we don’t have to put up with that irritating buzzy rattle. Do these two things on the music front, and you’re otherwise good to go – I don’t care whether it’s Dolly Parton or Photek, just make it sound something like the entertainment it’s supposed to be.

Car stereos are only a minor gripe, to be honest; give it a second and the offending vehicle will be gone, and its atrocious audio assault will have gone with it. More problematic is the over-exaggerated exhaust note of your average aftermarket accessorisor. Now, ordinarily I have no problem with a rorty sounding engine note and accompanying exit harmonics – and this is where my funny experiences kick in.

First of all, on the way to class on Wednesday I was pleasantly bouyed by The Most Fantastic Sounding automobile I have heard in A Long Time. It was coming towards me, and when I looked up, imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a previous generation Toyota Corolla – you know, the one that looks a bit like a librarian wearing an egg-grate grill. Aside from being a little bit lower, it appeared pretty much stock – even down to the alloys; but the sound it was making was just incredible. Obviously, the guy was pushing on a bit – probably not massively sensible in a built-up urban area – and running some kind of bazooka-grade exit pipe, maybe even system, but the thing of it was that the quality and the quantity of noise seemed entirely appropriate for the speed of travel.

This is so often so not the case. And this is my beef. I do have, as previously fessed-up to, a bit of a soft spot for the blaster scene. But what really really makes me itch is when you hear some car – usually a hatchback, often a Nova. Or a Metro – about three streets before it gets to you, and you think, Wow! What’s that?! And it comes into sight – making a hell of an impressive racket – and it’s still in sight, still in sight, still coming, and still, and…and the damn thing is only doing about 30mph when it sounds like it ought to be doing 120. That is just stupid. And it’s asking for trouble, too – because if I can hear it, so can the police, and any interfering, sorry, well-meaning member of the public who might wish to make a complaint on the grounds of noise pollution. And the car is obviously too slow to make any kind of a getaway – it’s like some kind of self-defeating prophecy. Grief, it’s annoying.

You know what they say about the UK’s street racers? I mean the proper ones, not the pretend machines hanging out at the cruise. They say that usually the cars don’t look all that much, that they don’t shout too hard about their potential – because that not only draws attention, it’s like a promise they cannot keep. Birmingham’s big on street racing apparently; if anyone has any more information about this, I’d love to write an article – but I digress…

The second weird experience, you’re probably wondering. This morning – the world’s loudest Porsche 911. Didn’t help that it was in that ‘orrible sickly-rich yellow – like sunburst or something; idling at the traffic lights fifty yards away it sounded like it was right next to me. There’s no accounting for taste.


Links:

#6: This is raw: Music [internal]

#5: A few words on...(Part 2) [internal]


Picture is a Polkaudio demo car. I was attracted to a caption for another of the pictures that said: 'There are a total of 22 LED's [sic] in the car.' The gallery is here. This post is in no-way meant to be a disparaging comparison to this particular vehicle or the company/ies and/or people involved with it!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a...crocodile

Choosing to staunch the flow of invective that otherwise greeted news of Shell's record profits this morning, instead I bring you news that saltwater crocodiles in Northern Australia have started 'launching' themselves at passing cars.

Apparently startled by the noise of the vehicle, the 'saltie' was seen to have 'all four feet off the ground' before slamming into the side of its metal protagonist. This is according to crocodile expert, Gary Lindner, whose 4WD experienced the croc strike. He also explained that the animal's agility was down to it's youthful age. The driver had 'no time to react' as the two metre long handbag in waiting leapt out of a drain and into the oncoming traffic. It sadly died as a result of its injuries, and was later eaten by Aboriginies.


The other "exciting" piece of news I spotted on the interweb this morning is this article on the icWales website:

Angry locals halt intruders' sex in cars

This recounts the heart-warming tale of how a residents group, fed-up that dogging was bringing a whole new meaning to outdoor activities in their local parkland, chainsawed some trees and trapped 'four men in separate cars' until '2am' by blocking both park entrances. Click the link to read more.


Links:

Leaping crocodile slams into car in northern Australia @ Canada.com [?!]

Kamikaze crocs attacking cars @ News.com.au

Angry locals halt intruders' sex in cars @ icWales


Picture is the 2000 Crocodile Audi R8 #77, winner at Adelaide. Sadly that's only a model, as I could find no decent pictures of the actual car; model - with other pictures - available to buy at iDcow.com.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The stark reality

We were out looking for locations for the magazine covershoot on Tuesday.



This was one of the suggestions: an empty MG Rover dealership on the edge of Coventry. Pretty depressing stuff.

The name is especially poignant - Coventry and Rover in one.

And that's a no.







X-Prize your personal transportation module

It looks like an X-Prize for cars is on the agenda.

Autoblog is all over some comments that Peter Diamandis, X-Prize founder, made in an article in the Wall Street Journal on January 27. While revealing that the next competition will in fact concern human genome sequencing, Diamandis also took the time to criticize the auto industry, asking, 'Why do we still drive cars that use an internal combustion engine and only get 30 miles per gallon?'

Suggesting that this will be the focus of an automotive X-Prize at some point in the near future, Diamandis added, 'I think that we'll see some amazing achievements in this area,' using the unique motivational model that the prize foundation offers to kick start innovation.

The original X-Prize - for back to back manned flights to the edge of space - was cashed in by Burt Rutan and his Space Ship One in 2004.


Links:

An X-Prize for automobiles may be on the horizon @ Autoblog

The X-Prize Foundation official website


Picture is of Space Ship One, and is from the Space Ship One minisite at Scaled Composites website.