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Technology alert: The dipstick’s demise is blamed on dilatory drivers

Apr 22

The practice of opening the hood at every fuel stop used to be routine. With an oil-soaked rag in hand, the worker reached over and pulled out the hot metal dipstick, and after a quick cleaning swipe, the dipstick was plunged back into its tube and pushed down into the sump of scalding oil. Withdrawn again, a tell-tale black film in the middle of the scored lines marked the oil level very accurately.

Today, many late model vehicles are running sans oil dipstick. Electronic oil level senders have replaced the metal rod – to the bafflement and frustration of the few remaining hands-on enthusiasts everywhere.
Audi Dipstick
In an effort to find out who exactly is responsible for the dipstick-abolishing movement, Autoblog contacted Audi , BMW and Porsche – three respected German automakers who have embraced the technology for several years. All three gave us the same answer. Contrary to Internet rumors, the elimination of an inexpensive metal rod is not a cost-cutting measure, nor is it an environmental issue (word on the web said each check of a dipstick introduced ounces of polluting dirty oil into the ecosystem).

Quite frankly, the automakers point out that we simply don’t need dipsticks anymore. Why. Because owners don’t use them. While they don’t specifically say it, those who engineer and assemble our new cars (and guarantee new vehicle warranties) are much more comfortable knowing that a silicon chip is monitoring the oil level – not a consumer who hasn’t checked tire pressures (or even opened the hood) since the last time the Vikings won the Super Bowl.

Today’s comatose driver expects everything to be automated – and it is. Look no further than the myriad of digitized warning lights on the dashboard when the key is turned (um… make that the start button). Don’t blame the automakers for the disappearance of the dipstick – blame the public at large.

Source: Auto Blog

The Information Superhighway, On The Highway

from Jonathan Fahey, 04.22.10, 6:00 PM ET

If Americans are going to get anything done with some of the 100 million hours every day they spend in their cars getting to and from work, they are going to need a better Internet to do it.

The idea of being able to access the Internet in the car has been kicked around–and worried about–for years. But K. Venkatesh Prasad, who runs the infotronics research and advanced engineering team at Ford Motor, thinks the Internet we are familiar with from our desktops, laptops and smartphones is all but useless to someone trying to get from Peoria to Pittsburgh at 70 miles per hour.

“We have to look very differently at the Internet in a vehicle; we have to make it invisible but useful,” Prasad says. “Then there’s a whole family of applications, and I don’t know what they are.”

Some of the first, simple ones are already emerging on Ford vehicles as early as this fall. Drivers will be able to navigate the music site Pandora and the mobile Twitter service Open Beak with their voices on the 2011 Ford Fiesta, for example.

This kind of thing is, as expected, raising some obvious worries about distracted driving. (See “Surfing The Web In The Car.”) Studies have shown, for example, that talking on a phone while driving is distracting, whether using a hands-free device or not.

But Prasad knows that drivers simply can’t (or shouldn’t) surf the Web when driving a 3,500-pound chunk of metal. That’s why he wants to create an Internet tailored just for drivers.

Prasad imagines a situation where a driver is heading somewhere and wants to grab dinner with a couple of friends. Social networking sites may have some idea about the general preferences of the members of the group. Review sites like Yelp or Urban Spoon have reviews, locations and contact information. A digital address book has contact information for the friends. The car knows where it is and which direction it is heading.

Prasad says there’s no way that a driver can access all of this information piecemeal the same way she would at a computer on her desk. But he’s sure that software could stir all of this information together and come up with a restaurant, a reservation, invitations and directions. “We need to let the social networks engines get working, mash up the data and deliver it as a solution, not as a URL or a link or an e-mail,” he says. “You can’t be presented with a question every two minutes.”

What if a driver learns about a delicious dish on American Public Radio’s The Splendid Table? Could he show up at his local grocery store and have the ingredients all packaged up for him and ready to bring home?

What if the driver didn’t have time to fill out her annual health care benefit form at work and wants to hear what’s changed this year?

Cars can (and are) connected to the Web via a Bluetooth link to a smartphone. They will also be increasingly connected via a car-based Wi-Fi link and a Wi-Fi-enabled phone. Later, vehicles may have a slot to insert a card that allows the car itself to connect to a 3G or 4G wireless network. Still further out, carmakers are exploring the idea of linking cars to one another in what is called a vehicle-to-vehicle grid, powered by Wi-Fi. (See “Car Talk.”)

For the applications, Ford is building an open-source programming platform and inviting developers to create applications or versions of applications designed for drivers. To kick things off, Ford invited a team of University of Michigan engineering students taking a class called “Cloud Computing In the Commute” to develop and test ideas. A team at Ford is doing the same.

Some of the applications being considered sound a little dicey for the rest of us. Like a driving game in which drivers compete with others to see who can drive “greenest” over the next, say, 100 miles; the race is scored and tracked through a social networking site. That may be fine, but it’s not too hard to imagine a similar type of game that involves driving like a bat out of hell instead of going as easy as possible on the accelerator.

But other applications could enhance safety. “Every stop sign has a history,” says Prasad. “Some have witnessed terrible accidents, others have witnessed lots of near misses.” If local public safety officials made data about dangerous intersections available, that information could be used to automatically turn down the blaring Lady Gaga in the car full of teenagers approaching a nasty intersection.

Prasad says the first applications, like Pandora and Open Beak, will be relatively passive. Over the next one to three years, though, he says, ever more sophisticated applications will be rolled out. “This thing is moving very fast,” he says.

From Mitchcan on April 22nd, 2010

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