Crank windows? Manual transmission? Climate control with just HOT and COLD on a lever? The simple, poverty-specification car is something that I truly respect. Our own Jason sings the praises of basic transportation devices, and he makes a strong, viable argument for them. Still, I have to admit that I’ve never owned one, or even had any desire to. It’s sort of like granola cereal and going to bed by ten; I know it’s good for me but I can’t get my head around the idea. Typically, I gravitate toward vehicles that have, as one Australian acquaintance said, “everything that flaps and wiggles.” Indeed, my current car lacks the power adjustable headrests and electric cargo cover of my previous ride, and it’s a tragedy that I have to live with each day of my life now. Some Autopians want the manual-everything machine, but my belief is that there’s nothing wrong with labor saving devices in a car, and there’s actually technology sitting in vehicles right now that could be used to create ways to automate them.
Don’t Stare Into The Sun
I mean, why can’t sun visors lower when you, say, turn to drive west at 4PM on a sunny day in December? Actually, that one is already being worked on, and it doesn’t bother with physical flip down upholstered blocks hanging from the headliner. Bosch has developed a system that blocks off parts of the windshield or a visor screen when it senses sun.
“Developed” is the key word since the idea itself possibly came from a post on some other car website by our own Jason Torchinsky.
That wouldn’t be the first time that The Man stole from The People. Or an Edison stole from a Tesla. That sort of thing. Also, not sure why you want that beehive-looking shit when you could just have the entire upper section of windshield to just go darker; those moving hexagon blobs look distracting.
Blind To The Rear
Here’s another one. On any car, why is there manual rear defogger switch? Isn’t it possible for it to automatically turn on? I mean, the car should KNOW that the rear window is opaque with condensation or ice, right? Hell, even forty years ago Nissan offered such a device on the equipment-laden 280ZX (a car that talked to you and had two gas gauges). See the sensor in the red rectangle below (closeup inside view on the lower right)? The dash switch had an AUTO setting in the middle.
Reports on Z car sites claim that it didn’t work very well, but I have to believe that four decades worth of technological advancements could make this a functional reality today, don’t you?
Too Much Choice Is A Bad Thing?
The main thing I want to talk about right now is seat position, and how to automate that. Many new cars offer a myriad of settings and adjustments for your seats which, according to one of my teachers at College for Creative Studies years back, can actually cause more harm than good. Most people don’t have a clue how to properly set their seat; this list of recommendations from Geico I don’t often stick to; I’m either the “racer” or the “hunchback” and don’t even know it.
Too many choices in cars equates to too many ways to screw things up and turn your comfy chair into a torture device. The instructor even offered an example of a (then new) Pontiac he had taken from the GM motor pool. Look at this shit:
I remember reading a review of the original Honda/Acura NSX when it was new, where the reviewer claimed the car had the most comfortable seats he’d ever experienced despite the fact that the only adjusted in four ways- sliding front to back and backrest angle. See the big Fisher Price toy-sized controls inside the red rectangle below? That’s all you get, son:
Likely this comfort level was achieved because the designers and engineers worked to get the position right for 80 to 90 percent of the population and then just locked it in so the owners couldn’t screw with it. I know they are on record as even having development assistance from some random driver guy of a Honda-powered race car. He appears to be able to drive stick real good:
Our Volvo 200 Series front seats were the same way- absurdly comfortable despite only being able to adjust for fore-and-aft slide, backrest rake, and a knob for lumbar adjustment (though you could adjust the height in those with tools, supposedly). Well, the jail bar headrests weren’t so comfy, but still.
Let The Machine Decide
One solution is semi-automatic adjustment to pre-set ergonomically ideal positions. This involves an interface for you to enter your height into the touch screen and have the seat, wheel, and mirrors adjust to the correct setting, or at least close to a setting that should work for you. Mercedes offers that now.
Still, this requires menus and touch screens that many loathe; why can’t it be automatic? Does your car know how tall you are (and how much you weigh) the minute you sit down? I think it might, or at least some cars do. Several manufacturers place a tiny camera on the steering column or in the gauge cluster aimed at the driver’s eyes to be sure that they are paying attention to the road. It’s part of a drowsiness detection system, like these early ones from Panasonic and Bosch:
If such a camera exists (and likely will soon on far more cars), then can’t the information the camera provides (combined with the current position of the seat) tell how tall you are? I mean, you should know this, but iPhones have the feature now:
So if the camera knows your height, then the car could easily adjust the seats, wheel, seat belt height, plus inside and outside mirrors to the ideal position.
Note that I said “inside mirror” as well as outside, since I think more cars should copy the system Thomas mentioned which existed in the W129 Mercedes roadster (it was on the overbuilt and overengineered W140 S-Class sedans as well). On these cars, a three position mirror switch let you manipulate the rear view mirror without having to physically grab it. This seems like something designed for lazy people that say things like “I want to work out but the exercise ball is ALL THE WAY OVER THERE!” I assure you it isn’t. To reiterate what Thomas said: You can accurately adjust the mirror while your head is in the correct position instead of leaning forward to adjust, lean back to test, lean forward.
Also, why DO we have to adjust the rearview mirror manually if everything else is automatically set? If there’s another driver for your car, and the other driver of the car is half a foot shorter than you (as they might be), you will have to move it every time you get in after she/he returns the car.
If there’s a heads up display that would also adjust automatically for height since that’s easy enough to do. Unless you had a 2007 BMW with the feature, in which case you need to remove the i-Drive screen, get every extension out of your socket set, and work in the dark inside the dashboard to wrench it up. I never told Mercedes Streeter about that one.
There’s another strange phenomenon- we all shrink during the day. I’m not making this up. According to Todd Sinett, DC, a New Your City-based chiropractor and author of The Truth About Back Pain, the discs in your spine get compressed from being upright all day. You’re tallest when you wake up and you may be as much as one centimeter shorter by the day’s end. I have needed to adjust my mirror at night on certain days and I always wondered why, and this could be a possible reason.
What about that weight sensor I mentioned earlier? Well, this one might be a bit more embarrassing, but also necessary. I mean, if you’re five feet tall and weigh above a certain amount, I am guessing you might not want the steering wheel that close to, you know, parts of your body that, uh, extend out more than they do on a “standard” sized figure. Besides, that’s dangerous to have an airbag that close to you. Again, you can fine tune the location, but at least this would get you within hailing distance and you aren’t sitting for five minutes in a Hertz lot trying to make the car fit you.
Weight sensors in the rear seat would do more than just tell you there’s objects (or kids) to not forget sitting there when you turn off the car. Based on the weight in the rear seat, the car would know to limit how far back to allow the automatically adjusting front seat to go before crushing a rear passenger’s legs.
Is this kind of automated seat moving possible with today’s technology? If it is, should we embrace it as a step forward or just one more move to making our lethargic asses even more lazy? You must decide.