Science Technology

Black Boxes for your Car? Washington Says They’re Coming

This has been a pretty quiet thing up till now, but I suspect it will get noisier soon. New Federal regulations now require that all new cars have a Black Box, a la airplanes, installed into them. The idea is to be able to reconstruct events prior to an accident:

New Federal Rules To Require Black Boxes to Record Driver Activity in Every Car | Popular Science.

To the extent that they can clarify the events leading up to an accident – which may point to anything from alcohol intoxication to malfunctions in equipment – this seems like a good thing. But its also a privacy issue that needs to be address. How long is this data being stored and who has access to it?

There is also an issue of data interpretation: because certain conditions were present at the time of an accident does not necessarily mean that a single conclusion could be made. Add to that, as the article points out, the fact that your phone is tracking you too and it starts to look a whole lot less benign.


What the PUMA Represents

I had a bit of fun yesterday evening with the new product announcement from GM and Segway: the PUMA. Lots of other people have been having their fun and at least one strange person over at Calculated Risk is actually taking it seriously, the poor bugger.

So, rather than just have some fun and let it go at that, let me be more constructive this morning and discuss what is actually wrong with the new prototype. Take another look at the vehicle and most of us from Rochester don’t need to think too long before we see what the problem is with it. I can’t even imagine navigating Rochester’s poorly-maintained winter roads in something so small. I also can’t quite wrap my head around why I would voluntarily drive this thing around in a Rochester October rain.

So one problem, in a nutshell, is that this vehicle simply isn’t designed as a serious all-weather alternative for any place north of Washington, DC. The most densely populated areas in America with the greatest concentration of wealth are simply left out of the equation on this vehicle. That’s not a very good way to foster the early adoption necessary for long-term viability. With apologies to my friends in other places, if it’s not being used in New York, Chicago or Philly, it’s just not going to happen.

But there’s a much, much larger issue at stake here, which is that PUMA stands for “Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility,” is a project doomed to spend it’s days in cities, stranded by it’s lack of resources. What’s the problem with that?

In short, eight decades of oil hegemony, that’s what. Our society has been carefully sculpted over the course of the last eighty years or so precisely so that we use lots and lots of oil. Urban sprawl, commuting, gas-guzzling vehicles and vacationing are all products of a government working hard – in tandem with automakers – to make sure we never ever failed to use the largest share of oil on the planet.

And hey! We Lefties can bitch about it all we want, but that hegemony sure has done us a world of good. We owe our entire lives as we know them to that under-the-radar empire the United States has built for ourselves. So, this isn’t a rant on the evil that men do.

But if automakers are serious about green energy, they’re going to need to find a solution – a fuel-efficient automotive solution – to the problem of our impossibly distant lives. They need to build cars that bridge the gap between the PUMA, which may yet be our future, and our unsustainable past as typified by the SUV. This is true for both practical and egotist reasons.

Because we can try our damnedest to make urban life sound like a good idea; we can try to make urban living the hip alternative to suburban sprawl, but that’s not going to make enough of a difference for enough people to make our ultra-modern life-on-two-wheels PUMA a practical reality. Fine if Segway wants to put this little piece of crap out there to sit along side their other two-wheeled success stories in Caribbean tourist trap cities. But don’t ask us to applaud GM for going “all modern” with this junk.


The Good and Bad News About Driving

Calculated Risk is blogging today that the US Department of Transportation reports a 3.7% drop in the total number of miles traveled on the nation’s streets and highways. This is the kind of thing that, on a certain level, is actually a good thing. After all, if we’re to curb global warming, no single issue can be more important than increasing efficiency and decreasing travel on U.S. highways, given the fact that nearly two thirds of our oil consumption comes from cars and trucks.

But this isn’t a statistic that proves we care about the environment, though our new-found concern for the planet is reflected somewhat in those numbers. What it shows is that the economy – which is largely driven by gas sales, auto sales and related industries – is slowing down precipitously. The slacking of gas prices also displays this rather eloquently.

The thing is: our nation is largely as rich as it is because of an actively-pursued but rarely discussed oil hegemony. As much as OPEC likes to talk, the fact is – as illustrated above – we control prices as the Buyer in Chief of the oil industry. Which also means that big and potentially dangerous nations like Russia who are entirely dependent on oil sales for their wealth may well become a whole lot less stable than they are right now.

So, enjoy that cheap gas while ya got it.



Ah, the iconic if remarkably ugly automobile of Serbia has finally breathed it’s last. The Yugo is no longer.

I know everybody’s pissed at the automobile industry here in this country – and rightfully so – but can you imagine the thought of an entire make of American cars disappearing from the map?


Just How Bad it Really Is

Count on this blog for all the good news, folks.  But you really need to read just how bad things suck at GM before we start the process of bailing them out.

Given the numbers that pretty much all the media seems to agree on – that, for example, as many as 2 million jobs could be affected by the collapse of GM – I’m inclined to agree with the need for some sort of bailout.  But there seems to be such an endemic problem with our automobile industry that I begin to wonder if what we should be looking for is closer to a soft landing than a rescue.

I don’t know what the next thing after GM would be.  I don’t know how GM changes it’s ways and suddenly begins to research and develop new technology, or if the myriad of startups playing with green technology are capable of handling even parts of the marketplace that is currently dominated by GM in that venerable company’s absense.  I just don’t know.

But the times they are a-changin’, no matter what happens.