The air bag: Wheat among the chaff of tech for tech’s sake

Isn’t technology wonderful? Not always, when it comes to cars, it seems.

‘Non-vanishing’ car keys could be a good use of motoring tech. iStockphoto
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Isn’t technology wonderful? I had just about migrated from Windows to Mac and absorbed enough to give me a bit of confidence, when Facebook announced that it was migrating its messaging to Messenger. It seems I cannot win. And despite being the proud owner of some pretty clever toys, I’m still glued inseparably to my old Nokia 6310 mobile. It’s not smart, but it’s quite clever enough for what I need it to do – which is to phone people. I have no desire to land a helicopter on it.

I despair of technology for technology’s sake – and I’m seeing more and more of it in the cars that we’re being offered these days. There’s been a raft of toys through my hands in the past few weeks as we run up to D-Day on the Middle East Motor Awards judging. Most of them have had something to offer that’s either new and innovative – or clever and downright ­pointless.

Some of the safety features are simply too good not to have, and have been instrumental in saving lives – it’s almost impossible to buy a car without ABS and airbags of some sort, while three-point safety belts have been standard equipment almost since Volvo pioneered them in 1959. But what of automatic handbrakes – which come on and freeze the car if you’re trying to fine-tune a parking manoeuvre with a door open? No thanks. Or electronic dashboards that light up with the ignition? Have you noticed how many people are driving at night with no external lights on because the dash is lit up, so it must all be OK? Again, no thanks.

I spent a full 10 minutes searching round the new Audi RS7 the other morning for the switch that would lower the rear curtain – a device that I particularly hate – only to discover that, since the RS7 is a hatchback, albeit a very quick one, there’s no space for an electric motor to be hidden if the seats are still able to be folded. What that illustrated was that I had come to expect such options, and that’s the dangerous thing.

What happens when, for example, you take your new flashmobile, with all possible bells and whistles in for a service, and as a courtesy, the workshop gives you another car to keep you on the move? Out you go, expecting all the help you are used to, only to discover, as you wake up in a hospital bed, that all that stuff was not there on the lesser rental model and you couldn’t actually drive without it, after all. We live in interesting times.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. A very good friend and colleague mysteriously lost his car key the other day. He’s just taken possession of a Jeep Cherokee, which has a cunning system that will recognise the key when it’s about your person and unlock the car as you approach.

He’s just moved house as well, so is still in the throes of getting stocked up, finding things and losing things. He searched high and low for the missing key and couldn’t find it anywhere, but remembered that the last time he recalled seeing it was when he was putting out the kitchen rubbish.

Nobody sane wants to rake through a kitchen waste bin for no good reason, so just to be sure it was not in with the rubbish, he dragged the wheelie bin over to the car, knowing that the car would recognise the key if it was there. I’m afraid the car opened its doors and the rest of the story is a bit too unpleasant to relay, but it proves that there are some technologies that are useful.

The challenge for manufacturers, as I see it now, is to sort out what we actually need, rather than loading cars up with stuff we think we want, but will, in reality, rarely use or even recognise. Can I suggest the non-vanishing key as a starting point for the former category?

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