Unreliable Data Sensors

I like data, and I like cars. I think there have been some really creative and useful integrations between the two. I also think there have been a lot of gimmicks and poorly architect-ed systems, including those that insecurely allow access to vehicular systems. I even worry (very slightly) about the integrations of networks in airplanes.

The US NTSA has said no to cameras and displays in place of side view mirrors. These are on the new Audi e-tron SUV, and would use a camera and a display on the door to show the rear view. While this certainly might help mileage, and it could allow for technology to perhaps sharpen or identify something in the display, I also worry about a couple issues. If you want to know what this looks like, here’s a review that shows this.

First, there is the safety issue. I find backup cameras, even very new clear ones, to be harder to look at than a rear view mirror. Granted, these do show a view the mirror can’t show, but I wouldn’t want to use these when I was moving at anything above a slow 5mph backup speed. The ability to gauge distance is much harder. I would worry that I’ve both look in the wrong place, and also struggle to see the display in some weather conditions. Not to mention potential dirt, water, etc. on the camera lens. Already my backup camera is often too dirty to use.

The second issue, and this is the bigger one for me, is that this technology isn’t anywhere near reliable enough to use in this situation. While it might work well at any point in time, I find too many issues with advanced electronics in cars that fail more often and with a much higher cost. At just over 4 years, when the warranty in my current car expired, one of the cameras in the side mirror failed. While it doesn’t appear to be hard to fix this, it’s a an expensive part (US$400). And an annoying, albeit unimportant, error on the display.

I’m all for new technology, and I think things like the lane change warning and other tools are fantastic. ABS and traction control are lifesavers. Backup cameras have saved me or others a few times. Adjusting mirrors and other responsive improvements are fantastic, though I certainly want to ensure these devices let me know if there is any failure. Others have been less exciting, like locks that don’t operate without power.

We know there are issues with lots of data, and we know that sensor data also needs to be checked and verified, as well as occasionally discarded. Vehicles have dramatically opened up our world and given billions abilities to access goods and services they might never otherwise see. However, there are safety issues that should override any new technology that hasn’t proven itself not only to operate at a very high reliability level, but also in a way that operators can easily adapt to using.

Steve Jones

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