Category Archives: automotive

Alpine X110-SLV 10″ Radio Upgrade



Alpine X110-slvIf you are the owner of a Chevrolet Silverado, then the Alpine X110-SLV 10″ Radio Upgrade is for you, though calling this a radio upgrade is hardly doing it justice. This is a full restyle of the central part of the dash. Todd and Daniel find out more from Javier Vergara of Alpine Electronics.

The X110-SLV is a complete replacement for the manufacturer display and audio head unit. Coming in three parts, the X110-SLV fits neatly into the space, replacing the small display with a large 10″ touchscreen and a DVD player. Manufacturer functions like OnStar, rear view camera and parking sensors are retained and integrated into the X110-SLV so there’s no loss of features with the upgrade. Navigation is provided through Here maps, which takes full advantage of the larger screen.

If you want to upgrade your Silverado, prices go from $1200 to $4,000.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.
Daniel J. Lewis is the host of the award-winning podcast about podcasting, The Audacity to Podcast. Daniel helps others launch and improve their own podcasts for sharing their passions and finding success.

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Cobra Dash Cams and Detectors at CES



Cobra LogoCobra Electronics are well-known for their radar detectors and other automotive products. Here at CES, Cobra won the TWICE Picks Award for one of its flagship units, the CDR 855 BT Drive HD dash cam, so Todd Aune finds out more about the latest devices from Mark Karnes, VP of Marketing at Cobra.

On the table are two relatively new devices from Cobra, the CDR 855BT dash cam and the world’s smallest DSP radar detector, the DSP 9200 BT. Starting with the dash cam, it’s a connected device, pairing via Bluetooth with a smartphone to acquire GPS co-ordinates which are then sync’d with the video footage. On top of this, the dash cam can work with Cobra’s iRadar app on the smartphone to know the location of cameras and provide alerts to the driver. The app is shared with the radar detector, so as the detector finds cameras, these can be reported back to the app and then up to the cloud to keep the camera database up-to-date for everyone through the iRadar Community. That’s pretty neat.

Not to be outdone, the radar detector was a CTA Honoree Award for an Intelligent Vehicle Device. The trick in this radar detector is to use digital signal processing to tell the difference between signals from the new collision avoidance systems and law enforcement speed guns. A range of radar and laser signals are presented to the driver as detected, with both visual and audio warnings, and the unit also benefits from alerts provided from the iRadar app on a connected smartphone.

Both devices are on sale now for US$349 for the radar detection and US$149 for the dash cam.

Todd Aune bridges the technology gap with the The Elder Divide.

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Pioneer Brings CarPlay and Android Auto to the After-Market



Pioneer logoPioneer is a brand for well-known for its in-car audio and entertainment systems so it comes as no surprise that the company is bringing a range of after-market units with Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. Todd and Marlo get a demo of the latest product with Ted Cardenas from Pioneer.

On show here is the freshly-announced Pioneer AVH-4200-NEX, which is one of three products which incorporate both CarPlay and Android Auto. As a result, the display and user interface will take on the persona of the connected device. The in-dash receiver connects to the smartphone using a wired connection as the phones contribute heavily to the running of apps. Plugging in the phones avoids issues with data speeds and keeps the battery charged, though Bluetooth is used in Android Auto for calls.

Voice is heavily used by both the driver to control the NEX and for the system to respond. Voice can be used to compose and listen to text messages, to navigate and to talk to Siri or Google Now. This keeps the need to look at the screen to a minimum and enhances safety.

If your current vehicle’s in-car entertainment system doesn’t support CarPlay or Android Auto, the Pioneer NEX range offers a great way to upgrade to the latest auto technology. Priced at around $700, the AVH-4200-NEX will be available in March.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com and Marlo Anderson rounds up the latest technology news at The Tech Ranch.

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Ford SYNC 3 Drives Choice at CES



Ford LogoThe third iteration of Ford’s SYNC in-car communication and entertainment system, SYNC 3, came into the dealer showrooms during 2015 in the latest “2016” vehicles. At CES, further updates were announced with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration available as a user OTA upgrade. Todd and Marlo go for a ride with Kenneth Williams from Ford.

The new SYNC 3 gives choice to consumers, supporting both iOS and Android. SYNC 3 automatically chooses what to launch based on the connected device, so if the phone is an iPhone, then it’s CarPlay, if it’s a Nexus, then Android Auto. The AppLink technology works with over 90 app providers to launch apps from the attached smartphone but display on the SYNC console. Consequently the owner gets the experience that they’re used to on their phone or tablet.

The AppLink protocol is being opened up and made available to other car manufacturers and Toyota is already on board. It’s an interesting move and could be a major benefit to consumers as it creates a standard in the market that app developers can work to.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com and Marlo Anderson rounds up the latest technology news at The Tech Ranch.

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Carloudy Head-Up Display Keeps Eyes Ahead



CarloudyHead-up displays (HUD) used to be the preserve of fighter jets and James Bond, but Cognitive AI Technologies wants to bring the technology to an affordable level for everyone through an aftermarket, dash-mounted head-up display. Jamie and Daniel take a look at Carloudy with Javy Kong.

Apparently one-in-four car accidents involves the inappropriate use of cell phones while driving and though some uses are clearly plain stupid, like reading email, there are some genuinely useful apps, such as navigation. To remove the need to look away from the road ahead, Carloudy projects relevant information up onto the windscreen, including directions, speed and fuel consumption. A small unit roughly the size of a paperback book, the Carloudy sits on top of the dash and works in conjunction with a smartphone. Connecting wirelessly via Bluetooth to the phone, Carloudy accepts voice commands to show what the driver wants . With a battery life of around two weeks, there’s no need for extra wiring.

The Carloudy is available for pre-order via Kickstarter and if you get in quick, there are units available from US$179. Usual caveats apply regarding projects on Kickstarter.

Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic and health journalist. Daniel J Lewis dares you to get started in podcasting with The Audacity to Podcast.

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Porsche Mission E Receives Green Light



Porsche Mission EPorsche announced that the first 100 percent electrically powered Porsche has been given a green light of approval. The Porsche Mission E is due to be launched at the end of the decade.

The Mission E concept car celebrated its premiere at the Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA) in September of 2015. In its concept form, the Mission E was a four-door car with four individual seats. It has a system power output of over 600 hp (440 kW). Porsche expects the Mission E to achieve both acceleration of 0 to 100 km/h in under 3.5 seconds with a planned maximum range of more than 500 kilometers.

The vehicle will be charged by an 800-volt charger, which is planned to be specifically developed for the car, and is twice as powerful as today’s quick-charge systems. The lithium-ion batteries (that are integrated within the vehicle floor) could be recharged to the 80 percent level after just 15 minutes. There are plans for optional equipment that would allow the vehicle to be ‘refueled’ wirelessly by induction via a coil which the owner of the Mission E could have installed beneath the garage floor.

With the Mission E project, Porsche is continuing to back sustainable growth. They plan to build a new paint shop and a new assembly plant, to expand their existing engine factory for the production of electric vehicles, and create more than 1,000 new jobs. Chairman of the Executive Board, Dr. Oliver Blume, said that with the Mission E, Porsche is “beginning a new chapter in the history of the sports car.”


Ford Announces First Apps Compatible with AppLink for SYNC 3



Ford LogoFord was the first to bring voice control to in-vehicle apps when AppLink launched for the first generation of SYNC in 2010. The voice control, of course, makes it safer for drivers to select apps while they are driving. Now, Ford is announcing the first smartphone apps to be compatible with AppLink for SYNC 3.

The integration of voice control to in-vehicle apps has been improved with SYNC 3, delivering an experience that is faster, more responsive, and user friendly. AppLink discovers compatible apps on your smartphone and projects their information, including unique graphics and branding on the touch screen display in your vehicle. There are three apps that Ford is highlighting that are compatible with AppLink.

The first one is Spotify, which delivers over 30 million songs at the touch of a button and the sound of your voice. In Ford and Lincoln models equipped with SYNC 3, users can control the Spotify App running on their Apple or Android smartphones from the driver’s seat using voice control. Using Ford AppLink, Spotify Premium, and Free subscribers can choose their playlists synced across any device, toggle shuffle, save tracks to their music collection, and much more, all hands-free. Users also have access to playlist, album artwork, and track information in rich full color display on the SYNC 3 touch screen.

Pandora is also being highlighted. With Pandora on SYNC 3, great music discovery is effortless and personalized. Pandora’s team of over 30 music analysts examines 400 attributes in each song to find the perfect track for you and your journey. Customize your stations even further by thumbing up and thumbing down directly from the dashboard of your Ford vehicle.

The third app being highlighted is Glympse, the pioneer in time-based, temporary location sharing. Users can simply share their current location and estimated time of arrival. Using SYNC 3’s touchscreen interface, drivers can easily send, add time or expire an existing Glympse, and receive a push notification when a sent Glympse has been viewed, which keeps the driver’s eyes on the road.

The all-new SYNC 3 communications and entertainment system debuts this summer in North America on the 2016 Ford Escape and Fiesta. Pandora, Spotify, and Glympse are among the first apps to take advantage of the new capabilities of SYNC 3; additional AppLink-enabled apps will continue to roll out as SYNC 3 becomes available this summer.


Chevrolet Offers 14 Models with CarPlay and Android Auto



Chevrolet Android Auto and CarPlayChevrolet has announced that it will offer Android Auto and CarPlay compatibility in more models around the globe than any other automotive brand for the 2016 model year. There are a total of 14 Chevrolet models that will include both CarPlay and Android Auto – including the all-new 2016 Cruze.

The 2016 Cruze compact car will debut on June 24, 2015. It is Chevrolet’s best selling passenger car, with more than 3 million sold since launch. Cruze will have CarPlay and Android Auto.

Chevrolet’s seven-inch MyLink infotainment system gives owners a smart and simple way to access both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The eight-inch version of MyLink will be compatible only with Apple CarPlay at the beginning of the 2016 model year. Development and testing is not yet complete, but it’s possible Android Auto may be available on the eight-inch MyLink later in the 2015 model year.

Android Auto is built around Google Maps, Google Now, and the ability to talk to Google, as well as a growing audio and messaging app ecosystem that includes WhatsApp, Skype, Google Play Music, Spotify, and podcast players. More details can be found at https://www.android.com/auto/.

Apple CarPlay takes the iPhone features users would most want to access while driving and puts them on the vehicle’s display in a smart, simple, manner. It allows drivers to make calls, send and receive messages and listen to music right from the touchscreen via Siri. Apple CarPlay supported apps include Phone, Messages, Maps, Music and compatible third-party apps. More details can be found at https://www.apple.com/ios/carplay/.

Using either application is simple in a compatible 2016 Chevrolet. A “Projection” icon on the MyLink screen is visible when a phone is not connected. It changes to indicate either CarPlay or Android Auto (whichever is applicable) when a compatible phone is connected via USB. Android Auto requires a phone running the Android Lollipop 5.0 operating system or above. Apple CarPlay requires an iPhone 5 or later.

The 7-inch MyLink Infotainment system will be available in the following 2016 model year Chevrolets: Spark, Cruze, Malibu, Camaro, Camaro Convertible, Silverado, and Silverado HD.

The 8-inch MyLink Infotainment system will be available in the following 2016 model year Chevrolets: Cruze, Malibu, Impala, Volt, Camaro, Camaro Convertible, Corvette, Corvette Convertible, Colorado, Silverado, Silverado HD, Tahoe, and Suburban.

Photo © General Motors


Biomethane Bus sets new Land Speed Record



Reading Buses logoWe don’t usually think of buses as being speedy things. And usually, we don’t actually want them to be going too fast. But a new type of bus, dubbed “Bus Hound” in England, has set a new land speed record for vehicles of its type. What’s even more surprising about this is that the bus is powered by biomethane made from cow manure.

While on a test track, Bus Hound reached a top speed of 76.785 miles per hour, earning it the accolade of fastest bus on Earth. Normally, these types of buses aren’t capable of exceeding 56 miles per hour. But Reading Buses, the company responsible for Bus Hound, made some adjustments to the vehicle in order to give it the 20+ extra mph needed to eclipse the previous record.

Bus Hound is painted with black and white spots, similar to the dairy cows that are responsible for most of the UK’s milk production. This paint scheme is also indicative of the bus’s biomethane system which is powered by fuel that’s created when special bacteria digest cow manure inside a bioreactor. The fuel is then compressed, liquefied, and stored in tanks on Bus Hound’s roof. Biomethane works in a combustion engine in a way similar to natural gas. The fuel is considered to be a green alternative to gasoline because it requires no extraction of fossil fuels from the ground and it also keeps the methane that would’ve happened naturally thru manure decay to enter the atmosphere.

No word yet as to just what Bus Hound smells like when it’s causing by at 56 miles per hour, however.


Uncanny Valley Fever



2015-05-08 16.44.00For the past few years we’ve been periodically hearing about autonomous vehicles; both cars and trucks. Most of the stories have been positive, yet vague on when we might actually see them. The nebulous “10 year” catch phrase always seems to make it’s way into these stories.

Most of the stories about the Google self-driving car seem to have been carefully managed. The Google car has driven hundreds of thousands of miles without causing an accident. However, that hasn’t stopped other human driven vehicles from plowing into it.

Automation theory demands closed systems, where all variables are known, without the possibility of new or unknown variables being introduced into the system. For example, it has long been possible to create 100% robotic warehouses. However these storage and retrieval warehouses are completely closed systems, closed in the same way that electronic circuit boards are closed that run smartphones, televisions or computers. There are automated garages in New York City that make it possible for every resident of incredibly expensive apartments to park their cars in marvelously automated and efficient parking garages, maximizing the expensive New York City real estate. These automated car storage systems are totally closed systems, where all variables are known 100% of the time.

Few of the glowing stories about the Google self-driving car seem to mention how Google has managed to achieve such an amazing feat as a self-driving car. The vast majority of these miles have all been in the relatively tiny city of Mountain View, California. Google has had to meticulously scan and map out every square inch of Mountain View, and come up with specific software to deal with each and every quirk that makes Mountain View, California unique. In other words, Google has managed to recreate a high-resolution virtual version of Mountain View, California for the car to follow.

In other words, Google has managed to turn Mountain View into a closed system, with every possible address known, every parking space known, and every variable the car might encounter known and accounted for. Think of it in terms of how a roller coaster makes a closed loop. The only thing that remains open-ended in Mountain View for the Google self-driving car is the presence of other pedestrians and traffic.

Contrast that with the real world, where the number of open-ended variables are frequently vast. I use Google Maps multiple times a day on a daily basis. Even though Google Maps is probably the best mapping database available, it is only accurate about 90% of the time. If I put in an address of a large business complex, Google Maps or any other GPS system can only take me to the main address, which most times can be a block or more away from the location of the drive I actually need to turn in to. A self-driving car in the open system of the real world would likely not know where the front entrance of any given business actually was or where vehicles should even park. Each one of these things would have to be specifically programmed in for each of literally millions and millions of locations, and there would still be unacceptably large database errors. Sometimes Google Maps and other GPS systems will say an address is on the left when it is actually on the right or vice versa. It may say that the address is actually out in a field.

A self-driving car might work if you live in Disney Land, but in the real world probably not so much.

In recent months Daimler has demonstrated both in Germany and Nevada so-called self-driving semi trucks. The systems demonstrated are what are in essence best described as a “super cruise control” where once the truck is being driven down a freeway the driver can press a button and the truck will steer itself with the cruise control engaged. Big trucks have had conventional cruise control systems for quite a few years. In the past few years, radar systems have been integrated into the throttle and braking systems making adaptive cruise control a reality.

Adaptive cruise control systems can be handy for maintaining adaptive speed on a busy road. However, the system quickly breaks down with vehicles that are traveling slower than the rest of the traffic. The truck’s radar-based adaptive cruise control will simply match the speed of the vehicle in front of it, unless the driver overrides it by accelerating or getting into the passing lane.

There is an occasional problem with false positives. Driving trucks with adaptive radar based systems I have had the truck slam on the brakes because of a false positive from an overpass or even from a slowing vehicle in an off ramp. On a rain or snow slickened surface slamming on the brakes could cause a jackknife or even collision from behind from someone following too close.

Another problem with radar-based cruise control and braking systems is that the sensor in the front bumper of the truck can become covered with bugs or ice and snow and the system simply stops working. Sometimes it stops working anyway for no reason, requiring the truck to be stopped and the motor turned off and back on, rebooting the cruise control electronics to try to get it to function properly again.

The Self-Driving Truck

Aside from these mechanical problems, there’s another problem having to do with security. Have you ever wondered why in this day and age of high-resolution cameras and ubiquitous electronic surveillance systems there are still so many human security guards? There’s a very simple reason for this. The physical presence of a human being security guard scares off would-be thieves much more effectively than cameras or other surveillance devices. If something is apparently unattended by a human presence, psychologically it is much easier for would-be crooks than it is if a human being is around watching.

I expect the same thing would happen with would-be highjackers of self-driving trucks. All they would have to do to make the automated truck come to a complete stop would be to completely block its path. Then it would be a simple matter of breaking into it and stealing the cargo. The would-be thieves would likely not be deterred by the presence of cameras or even automated no trespassing warning messages broadcast over integrated speakers. There would be no human witness to injure or kill, making it an easy, even desirable target from the criminal mind’s point of view.

If you have never been a long-haul truck driver, then it is easy to look at the job from the outside and think that it consists of just driving down the freeway. While driving does constitute a considerable amount of the job, there are hidden parts of the job that are not readily apparent to someone passing a truck on a freeway.

To get an idea of what the more hidden, complicating parts of the job entails, it is helpful to think of it in terms of would it be possible for someone confined to a wheelchair to autonomously drive a long-haul truck. The truck itself could easily be modified so that a wheelchair-bound individual could drive it in much the same way that conventional automobiles can be modified. However, there’s more to the job of moving freight around than simply driving.

A fair amount of face-to-face business negotiation has to take place to set up the loading and unloading processes. With every load, the driver has to figure out how how to get to a customer’s facility, where to park the truck out of the way, and figure out where the shipping or receiving entrance is located at to take the load information or paperwork to the shipping or receiving clerk. There are virtually ALWAYS stairs involved, occasionally a lot of them, and most do not have wheelchair ramps. Upon being given a door to back into, the trailer doors must be opened and once loaded or unloaded the same doors have to be closed. The trailer wheels frequently must be adjusted to meet weight law limitations in order to make the overall weight legal. A person in a wheelchair would also have to be able to fuel the truck, check its oil and inspect it each day for potential mechanical and tire problems. They would have to devise a way of getting into the back of the trailer to sweep it out, or even load and unload on occasion. Certainly all of these problems could be overcome with vast effort and great expense, but it’s just not practical.

A self-driving truck would be even more handicapped than a person in a wheelchair. It would not be able to fuel itself, nor could it handle face-to-face negotiations. It would just be a dumb piece of equipment, easy to rob from or just ignore.

The face-to-face business negotiation aspect is far more important than it appears at first blush. This aspect is one reason that 70% of long-distance freight is moved by truck and not by rail.

The Uncanny Valley

As owners of Google Glass know, there is a fundamentally important real-world aspect that Google Glass engineers failed to take into account – the so-called “uncanny valley.” Human beings are creeped-out by a camera placed directly next to human eyes. On paper it must have looked great in the closed world of Google engineers. In the real world, it’s quite creepy and produces extremely negative reactions from all kinds of different people. Why not combine it with a Twilight Zone ventriloquist dummy face for the full effect?

The concept of self-driving vehicles may also look great on paper. I think there’s another so-called “uncanny valley” problem when it comes to the self-driving vehicle. I believe the average person is going to be creeped-out when they look over and see a driver with his or her super cruise control engaged either snoozing in the driver’s seat or playing with their smartphone, or perhaps not in the driver’s seat at all.

Super cruise control is close to being here. Whether it will be accepted or not remains to be seen.

As for 100% autonomous vehicles, I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, I want and would be willing to pay good money for a 100% autonomous toilet-cleaning robot!