Car electronics: Boon or pure insanity?

David Strom has a fascinating piece on his experience test-driving a Ford Edge. Strom went to some effort to identify and categorize all the electronics options available for the vehicle. If you thought today's computer-controlled engines were complicated, wait 'til you see what you can do while you are, uh, "driving," if you want to call fiddling with all this stuff while the car is moving "driving." Strom lists, among other options:

  • Two USB ports
  • Three RCA audio/video jacks so you can plug in a DVD player or some other kind of portable media player
  • An SD memory card slot so if you just took some pictures and can't wait to get home, you can sort them while you are driving. The electronics may also enable you to play any music stored on the SD card.
  • Turn by turn navigation
  • Rearview video camera
  • Touch screen climate controls, because knobs are so hard to use
  • Bluetooth to give you hands-free phone use
  • Address book syncing so you can dial phone numbers hands free
  • iPod support so you can fiddle with your playlist from the in-dash screen rather than the iPod screen (if the in-dash display is designed for presbyopic Baby Boomers, I'm there with that one)
  • WiFi radio, in case you want to stream a radio station via your cellular data modem. This might be kind of cool, as I could listen to WBGO, the country's greatest jazz station, whenever I wanted.
  • In Ford trucks, you can get an in-dash Windows CE computer pre-loaded with Office, in case you need to edit a spreadsheet while you are driving, which I guess you would print on your wireless printer sitting in the passenger seat.

Strom also indicates that Ford plans to add Pandora radio and Twitter services to this mess of stuff, so that you can tweet while you are driving. Because driving and tweeting just naturally go together. I'm getting more nostalgic for my '65 Chevy by the minute. Yea, I had to be able to use a timing light to keep it running, but the car and its engine were nearly indestructible. Cars today are much safer than that Chevy, but they are also much more expensive and based on what Strom has described, getting just a bit silly.

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Oh fer the love of...make everything voice controlled so the hands will stay on the wheel. And PULEEZE find a way to keep driver eyes on the road as well as hands on the wheel--either that, or design a robot that will replace the humans, perforce drive undistracted, and let the humans goof off safely. I'm about to rig my pickup with armor and jump-jet technology so as to avoid the multitasking fools who drive all over the road.

Yes, we all need a car with those Speed Racer springs that just fling the car over traffic jams.

I agree with Reader that what we really want is auto-pilot. I understand it's not that far off technically; the public is likely to be slow to accept it.

I've never understood why we can't use something like infrared-based distance detection to help us avoid driving too closely to the car in front of us and to help detect sudden breaking by the car in front. It's not an auto-pilot but getting some helping detecting changes in velocity and acceleration ought to reduce the incidence of rear end crashes.