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Reinventing the automotive UI or just another gimmick - the BMW 7 Series

By eviltwin in Technology
Mon Apr 15, 2002 at 11:45:53 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Cars have for a long time been the last bastions of traditional UI (User Interface) design; the interior layout of a modern car has not much changed since the first model A rolled out of the ford factory. The key components remain the same, a gearstick, steering wheel, accelerator, brake and clutch if manual. Admittedly modern cars have become loaded with buttons and screens as more and more features are installed but the basic layout has remained the same.

Enter BMW with their new seven series. They want to do nothing less than change the way we use our cars and interface with them. The key to this is a new system called iDrive, a system they claim will change the way cars works and the way we use them. In this article I examine the concept of the iDrive and other changes in technology which will impact the way cars work and the way in which we drive them.

We don't normally think of ourselves as 'using' a car - we drive it. However, the distinction blurs more and more now as we fit advanced control systems, computer features, screens and buttons. The modern driver of a car such as the Mercedes S Class is surrounded by a plethora of buttons (some 50 in total and more in the higher end models) controlling everything from seat adjustment to navigation system. The result is the ability for a driver to become 'task laden' - too busy to pay attention to the road.

In order to deal with increasing feature sets car manufacturers have tried a variety of solutions including buttons on the steering wheel, extra stalks on the steering column and even 3 Dimensional heads-up displays projected onto the windscreen. The BMW system uses a controller between the front seats (where a gear stick is traditionally located) to access all controls and a large Multifunction Display Screen.

BMW states that the iDrive system was developed in partnership with Immersion Technologies a San Francisco based company that specialises in haptic (the science of touch) systems. Immersion was one the developers of force feedback systems for joysticks and the creator of the Logitech force feedback system feel-feel. The devices are manufactured for BMW by Alps who manufacture pointing devices, mice and track pads for OEM manufacturers. The concept is to replace all the dials and switches inside the car with one central easy to use device - but to ensure that drivers aren't distracted from the road whilst changing settings there needs to be a way for the person to use it intuitively and to know they have hit the right setting. Enter iDrive.

At the heart of the system is the controller in the centre console, looking something like the volume button on an expensive stereo or an oversized bottle cap. It sits exactly where your hand would normally fall for the gearstick .In use the iDrive is designed to give the feel of a comforting click as you toggle between radio stations or the firm sensation of hitting a wall as you reach the end point of a climate-control slider. The controller can be pushed down like a knob, turned left or right like a dial, and moved in any of eight compass-point directions to select entertainment, navigation or other settings. The dashboard screen shows your options and confirms your choices. In effect the system is a force feedback joystick for your car. The operating system is a modified Windows CE implementation developed by Siemens (custom interface running on CE Internals) which in theory would make this an extensible platform for Siemens to use in other vehicle applications, which could mean more IDrive type systems coming your way in the next few years.

Other Changes to the conventional cabin include

  • The Gearstick - Now steering column mounted it controls a steptronic (semi automatic) gearbox doing away with a traditional H pattern shift column
  • The Steering Column - Becomes an integrated part of iDrive with control buttons for the gearbox and entertainment systems
  • The key - gone and replaced with a computerised remote control type module which slots into a special slot and the engine is then started with a button
  • An electronic handbrake - no more mechanical only systems - the handbrake is activated by pushing a dashboard button
  • Active and Passive control systems - A combination of stability controls, driving aids and intelligent monitors designed to enhance braking and stability in all driving conditions - the BMW system combines the standard Stability control, ABS, Traction control and other features into an integrated package with the ability for a driver to programme his or her own settings and save the presets - thus adjustments can be made to suit their driving style in a given situation
  • Active Cruise Control - A BMW developed cruise control system, which uses radar to monitor speed of vehicles travelling in front and to the side of the car, and regulates speed accordingly
  • Intelligent Assist - Phone home for breakdowns and service - the car communicates with BMW and passes information on issues and service required. If a breakdown occurs the car phones home
  • BMW Mobile Internet - Internet, email, traffic updates and live news data delivered via wireless (Blue tooth appears to be the chosen protocol) to the car

How well the technology will work in practice remains to be seen but one question that needs to be asked is what impact will all of these toys have on the way a driver functions? Driving is a learned skill and one that becomes almost instinct, a driver reacts in the way they have been trained to do so to a given situation. But what load will be placed on the driver who is trying to drive on a freeway at the same time they are setting the climate control or entering a destination into the navigation system?

Like any system this one has a learning curve; and in this case it can be steep, as a number of reviewers have pointed out already.

Unfamiliar design of important controls compels reorientation to new world of driving. Gearshift, for example, is a small electric flipper with spring-back movement and push/pull activation that's not self-evident. Anything more than simplest climate and audio adjustments forces interaction with iDrive. It accesses amazing range of communications, navigation, and entertainment tools; even adjusts suspension firmness and deactivates antiskid control. But learning its ways and coordinating its joystick movement while driving takes hours of practice.

Quoted From the Auto Consumer Guide Review

In a normal situation learning a new system can be frustrating but not dangerous. A pilot transitioning to a new plane undergoes comprehensive training before flying it. The key question will be 'Does iDrive actually enhance safety?'. The concept of designing an interface is to provide an intuitive system that a user is comfortable using and can learn easily. In a car this means get in and drive away, but what challenges will a transition pose as we move driving into new areas?

Mobile phones, in-car stereo systems and other technologies are already being blamed for accidents and a loss of driver concentration. Studies across the world have shown that mobile phones in cars pose a considerable distraction risk for drivers. A study by the US National Safety Council on Does Cell Phone Conversation Impair Driving Performance? Concluded

conversing on either a hand-held or hands-free cell phone led to significant decrements in simulated driving performance. We suggest that the cellular phone use disrupts performance by diverting attention to an engaging cognitive context other than the one immediately associated with driving.
So the question has to be if cell phones are distracting by their presence what effect will a system as complex as iDrive have on drivers ? The iDrive is designed to be transparent but is a system that requires a learning curve of several hours transparent ? Examine the way in which drivers around you on the road play with climate control and stereo settings to see the effect gadgets can sometimes have on driving. In theory a driver who learns the system will then not be distracted by that system but as this has not been tested it is hard to quantify in practice. Simply choosing a selection might involve 6 or 7 different movements alone and this provides the option for a driver to lose concentration at a critical moment.

BMW isn't alone in bringing this type of technology to the market; SAAB, Audi and Ford have shown similar systems in car shows, however BMW are first to produce a working product for sale. In addition, other technologies are coming to change the way our cars function and look even more. Mercedes expects to have a fully drive by wire system in the 2005 C Class model year, thus removing the mechanical linkages for steering and control, and they fully expect a concept car using a joystick like controller for steering around the same time. The advantages of a drive by wire system include an increase in safety by totally separating the drive bay from the vehicle (in collisions the steering column must collapse to avoid a driver being impaled or trapped) and increased cabin room and dimensions - it can also mean smaller more cost effective vehicles with very non traditional layouts and the end of the need for expensive separate chassis design programs for left and right hand drive - a drive by wire system would be a bolt in pod making it easy to change to right hand drive or vice versa.

Whether consumers will adjust to these technologies easily is something hard to quantify - fly by wire first appeared in aircraft over 10 years ago but the concept of a joystick was nothing new and the movement simply put the control column on the side of the cockpit rather than in the centre. As already pointed out a pilot also undergoes considerable training before being rated to fly a new aircraft and has the advantage of sophisticated navigation, control and system aids and a second pair of hands. In a car that's not really an option so the transition may be somewhat more dangerous.

Seen in that light the BMW system may be the first step in the direction of changing the way we think about and use our cars by changing the way we work with and communicate with them. The next step, according to BMW, is fitting voice activated systems (expected in the next 12-18 months) to remove the need for a controller altogether and the development of efficient CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) systems which mean the gear stick could disappear altogether. What effect this will have on safety and whether drivers will use a new interface remains to be seen.
(Honda use a version CVT in their Insight hybrid car and a good overview of how it works can be found on this page)

What does this mean for the average person who finds luxury automobiles like the $70K BMW 7 Series and the $72--155K Mercedes models unattainable?. The rapid pace of development in automotive systems has seen a very rapid transition of new technology into consumer level vehicles; for example technologies like ABS, SRS, Traction Control, Variable Valve Timing, Air Bags, Climate Control and more all started as developments in luxury vehicles and have moved into the consumer sector.

Companies like OEM manufacturer Visteon are already working on advanced technologies like night vision systems, Head up displays, radar and voice control systems for the next generation of vehicles. Visteon already supply components to a range of companies including Ford, GM, Chrysler, Jaguar, Volvo, Opel, Mercedes, and Renault. In short the next generation technology being developed today may be with us sooner that we thought - Audi and Ford have both indicated they expect to see this sort of technology in consumer cars within the next 3 years.

I only know one thing. When I see a new 7-Series coming towards me on the road I will be hoping that the driver is paying attention to the road and not still learning how to use the iDrive or attempting to change the stereo settings.


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What do you think of the iDrive System
o Revolutionary 19%
o Another Gimmick 21%
o Dangerous Distraction for drivers 27%
o Nothing special 9%
o Need more information to decide 15%
o No opinion / Don't care 6%

Votes: 88
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o iDrive
o Mercedes S Class
o Immersion Technologies
o Alps
o controller
o modified Windows CE implementation
o Siemens
o Auto Consumer Guide Review
o US National Safety Council
o Does Cell Phone Conversation Impair Driving Performance?
o Mercedes
o this page
o Visteon
o Also by eviltwin

Display: Sort:
Reinventing the automotive UI or just another gimmick - the BMW 7 Series | 165 comments (156 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
Active cruise control with radar? (3.00 / 2) (#10)
by cnicolai on Mon Apr 15, 2002 at 09:45:48 PM EST

Sounds like it could slow you down, if other drivers have radar detectors. IIRC, there was a demographic study of speeding recently which didn't use radar detectors for this reason. Instead they drove right at the limit, and took note of who passed them.

Cruise-con (none / 0) (#40)
by PigleT on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 05:33:54 AM EST

I bought my first car ~17 months ago - having driven other folks' vehicles for 8 years or more, thought it was time I got something designed for eating motorways (which I do a lot).

The problem with cruise-con is not necessarily that it rams you up into the wazzock in front of you faster than you would ordinarily go, but that the idiot in front of you is going too slow AND the pillock behind you is sitting on your rear corner, stopping you pulling out.

If cretins learnt
a) to overtake *always* leaving a good 5-10mph clearance, and
b) if you're going to pull out in front of me, expect to gas up to MY speed pretty hard
then all would be well, 'cos I ain't slowing down for you.

The reasoning is simple economics: it costs a lot in fuel consumption to jump around between 60-75mph; if I have to come off the cruise-con to brake for some jerk, then it's going to cost me more to get back up to speed again. I've checked this; tracking a regular manual driver down a motorway the speed varied all over the place and took much the same amount of time (over an hour - we're not talking a short run here) as a nice cruise at an average speed; it's just that I only did about 5/6 the mpg...

...and people wonder where traffic jams and queues come from. Honestly.

~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]
Overtaking (5.00 / 1) (#60)
by katie on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 10:16:00 AM EST

Friend of mine used to drive a fairly noticeable car. For this reason, one the motorways he'd cruise-control it at the limit rather than spend all day getting pulled over by the traffic police.

Being a passenger in the car was entertaining: The number of people he would pass because they were doing 65ish, who would, moments later, trundle past doing 75ish because they were now in the middle lane and had sped up to be "going faster than the people in lane 1"...

Another neat effect: see how often you can pass someone on a slip-road who won't accelerate properly and ends up trying to join the motorway doing 50 and causing the trucks grief and who will pass you 1/2 mile later, in the outside lane doing 90.... I've come to the conclusion it's not /speed/ people are scared of, it's /acceleration/. They'd happily drive at 200 thinking they were safe, as long as they didn't have to feel the acceleration to get there..

[ Parent ]
stress (none / 0) (#74)
by PigleT on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:43:33 AM EST

"he'd cruise-control it at the limit rather than spend all day getting pulled over"

The irony is that on average you take the same amount of time to get there doing this as someone without cruise-con who *claims* to have been doing maybe 75 or so - because they slow down, quite often subconsciously, for hills and things in front of them.
On the whole, it's both less stressful and more economical to cruise at about 70 safe in the knowlege that you won't attract undue attention, than to be some wizzy boy-racer type. Seems to have stood me in good stead so far.


Oh yeah. Have you ever noticed how folks coming down the slip-road seem to think they have right of way these days?
When I took my post-test motorway driving lesson, folks on the body of the motorway made way for incoming cars out of the generosity of their own heart; now, if you don't screech to a stop for them, they swear gratuitously.

"They'd happily drive at 200 thinking they were safe, as long as they didn't have to feel the acceleration to get there.. "

I sure would. I'm also of the opinion that more speed-cameras should be met by higher speed limits, too. But then again, I'm a strange creature who actually likes driving for what it's worth, has places to go, and doesn't like HM Government when it adopts don't-Think! strategies to induce an anti-driver feeling in the population at large...
~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]
Folks coming down the slip-road. (none / 0) (#129)
by katie on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 06:07:55 AM EST

ISTR it's the only place on UK roads where it is MANDATORY to give way to traffic on the carraigeway. In all other places, it's just that any resulting accident is your fault and you can be considered driving dangerously...

[ Parent ]
Cruise control is pointless in the UK (none / 0) (#64)
by Phillip Asheo on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 10:48:27 AM EST

The Motorways are too crowded (at least in England) so that it becomes necessary to constantly switch it on and off. Combine that with the abysmal standard of driving of the older generation (sitting in the middle lane etc) and you have a recipe for disaster.

"Never say what you can grunt. Never grunt what you can wink. Never wink what you can nod, never nod what you can shrug, and don't shrug when it ain't necessary"
-Earl Long
[ Parent ]

motorways (none / 0) (#67)
by PigleT on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:20:03 AM EST

Well, yes and no. Up north, where I want to be anyway, it gets a lot easier going. Of course, the M25 is pretty hard to cruise on, but other places, it's fine.

And I'm totally with you about cretins in the wrong lane. The only change I've noticed in recent years is that when you come up behind someone who's obviously in said wrong lane and flash them to say "kindly get the hell out of my way", they now swear at you and flash as you go past.
I get sick and tired of people thinking they have a right to impose their choice of slowness on others. Take the lot off the road and shoot 'em.
~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]
I've noticed something. (none / 0) (#105)
by Phillip Asheo on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 03:52:54 PM EST

In London, and the surrounding counties, it has become commonplace to overtake on the inside (a habit which is commonplace in the US). Whilst this is against the UK Highway Code, a very large number of people seem to be doing it. Problem is, the kind of moron who sits in the middle lane doing 69.5 mph is exactly the sort of person to pull into you on the assumption that 'you shouldn't be overtaking on the inside - its illegal'.

I've lived in London all my life, and as the number of cars has gone up, the standard of driving has gone down. Or to put it another way, the chance of encountering a bad driver has gone up.

"Never say what you can grunt. Never grunt what you can wink. Never wink what you can nod, never nod what you can shrug, and don't shrug when it ain't necessary"
-Earl Long
[ Parent ]

undertaking (none / 0) (#108)
by PigleT on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 05:09:01 PM EST

Well, I've got very few qualms about undertaking - if I do, it's a sure sign that they were in the wrong lane. (And there's no other reason I would.)

And you're right - I've noticed this one of late as well.

Now what would really come in handy is a decent reference work on the flow dynamics of a jam or queue - something that by knowing where you are in a pickle, you can choose the best lane to sit in - much as I suspect hogging the right lane is probably a reasonable idea, at least until things even out or someone faster comes along, anyway.

"the chance of encountering a bad driver has gone up"

Yeah, I've moved into the area ;8^)
~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]
That's what active cruise aims to solve (none / 0) (#101)
by zeoslap on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 02:18:59 PM EST

Normal cruise keeps you at Xmph, active cruise will slow you down if it senses you are getting to close to the guy in front. Makes napping much safer.
textads.biz - sell textads on your site!
[ Parent ]
No way! (4.61 / 13) (#11)
by Erbo on Mon Apr 15, 2002 at 09:46:23 PM EST

(1) There's a good reason why the fact that the basic control mechanisms of automobiles haven't changed in decades is a Good Thing: consistency and transferability of skills. Cars all tend to have the same basic controls in roughly the same places, allowing people who know how to drive one type of car to operate many other types from a wide range of time periods. I first learned to drive in an old Datsun, I think it was; then I drove various rental cars (mainly Fords and Mitsubishis) before buying a Mazda. When the Mazda finally died about a year ago, I bought myself an Oldsmobile and my wife a Saturn. In each vehicle's case, minor details were different, such as the operation of the radio or the climate controls; however, the basic controls required for safe operation of the vehicle (steering wheel, accelerator, brake, gearshift, turn signals) were all pretty much the same. I didn't have to re-learn how to steer or stop each car, except to the extent of learning the car's specific handling performance and responsiveness. Even though my Olds is way more powerful than my Mazda was, and it has different handling characteristics (such as anti-lock braking), I didn't have to start from zero. Now, in the future, if one car has a steering wheel, and another car has a joystick, the skills someone learns on one will not be transferable to the other. At best, this can be viewed as a lame attempt at product "differentiation" (or, cynically, as an attempt at securing "vendor lock-in," to keep one consumer driving Brand X cars forever); at worst, it could be a colossal safety hazard, as people get in over their heads with vehicle controls that are totally unfamiliar.

(2) The idea of "drive-by-wire" makes me very nervous. Yes, I know, aircraft have been using fly-by-wire now for years, but it's still not bug-free; many issues of the Risks Digest will attest to that. And that's in a situation where you have pilots trained to deal with emergencies, including electronics failures. I very much doubt that your average shmoe on the freeway will have such training.

BMW's "electronic handbrake," for instance, is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard of. You want that hand brake to be completely manual, so that, in case something goes wrong with your primary brakes while you're in motion, you have some chance of stopping the car safely no matter what else may be wrong. If your Beemer's electronics fail, potentially, there goes your handbrake, and you're probably going to crash spectacularly. Or, if the engineers try to make it "fail safe" by automatically engaging the handbrake if the system goes down, it could disrupt somebody trying to maneuver to get out of traffic, and could cause the very wreck they were trying to avoid. (Yes, the BMW may have advanced "crash protection" features to keep its occupants safe...but that's not going to help the mother and 3 kids in the '84 Chevrolet that it slams into in the process.) Consider the impact (no pun intended) of that on your insurance premiums, folks...and, since the BMW's control system is based on Windows CE, it could make "Blue Screen of Death" an all-too literal prospect. (Yes, old, bad joke, I know.)

Which is not to say the situation now, with cars that have enough controls to start to resemble the Space Shuttle, is any better. I guess there's no reasonable solution except to encourage the automakers to get over their bouts of "featuritis." You can't keep people from driving while distracted, in the long run, but the manufacturers don't have to encourage the practice.

Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org

First One (none / 0) (#12)
by eviltwin on Mon Apr 15, 2002 at 09:52:55 PM EST

I was waiting for the first 'blue screen of death' or 'windows crash' joke and its here - 10th post :)

But you make some really good points and i agree - the electric handbrake is very worrying to me - just not with that - i've never managed to crash CE on my iPaq - the name MS (shock to some) does not automatically mean bad to all of us

All generalisations are false, including this one.
[ Parent ]
Well, I *SAID* it was a bad joke... (4.00 / 2) (#13)
by Erbo on Mon Apr 15, 2002 at 10:08:30 PM EST

i've never managed to crash CE on my iPaq - the name MS (shock to some) does not automatically mean bad to all of us
If your iPaq crashes, it's highly unlikely that lives will be lost. Would you be willing to entrust your life to Windows CE? How about the lives of your spouse and/or children?

And what if you knew that the fellow in the next lane over was driving a WinCE-controlled car? Would that make you more or less likely to give him a wide berth?

(Note that I have made no attempt to assess how well other popular operating systems would do in this situation. It's entirely possible that a Linux- or BSD-based system, for instance, would be no better suited to the task than WinCE. I strongly suspect that the only computer that might be safe enough to be put in charge of a car would be one designed to the same standards as the computers aboard a shuttle, or an airliner...i.e., multiply redundant hardware units with voting, at least two complete sets of system software written by completely different teams, and other measures to ensure as near to absolute reliability as you can get. Unfortunately, no consumer-products company has yet produced a mass-market system with these standards, and I would hesitate to see what becomes of the first company to try.)

Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org
[ Parent ]

Yeah i smiled at it (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by eviltwin on Mon Apr 15, 2002 at 10:21:48 PM EST

but seriously i would not care if his car was running winCe - i use windows and linux and i don't think i'd give it a thought - although considering the stability of my Mandrake 8.1 i'd be praying it wasn't running that .

The fact is that this system is built on a core only of CE, siemens then custom designed the inferface and there would be so many failsafes and backups built in that it would not be funny. I'd trust my life to them as much as i'd trust my life to any of them - the lifts you ride in every day are almost invariably controlled by the software run on a Windows box (Kone, Honeywell, Otis all use windows software for lift control) and they dont crash do they ?

To much is made of this - i saw a guy the other day in british CAR magazine talking about how scared he was that people would be able to hack into his BMW and take it over.

All generalisations are false, including this one.
[ Parent ]
Failsafes (none / 0) (#144)
by cpt kangarooski on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 04:27:42 PM EST

But don't elevators also use mechanical Otis-type safety brakes in case of a catastrophic failure? I don't care much if WinCE runs the stereo et al, provided that there's a hard on/off switch. It's not so good if it runs the brakes or the steering.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
Windows - Not intended to be embedded (none / 0) (#165)
by wnight on Tue Apr 23, 2002 at 10:50:37 PM EST

You may not have many problems with Windows. My experiences differ though, I get about 5-12 days out of Win2k, even freshly installed, before it has a fatal issue and needs a reboot. (Usually explorer.exe crashing.)

But is this an MS vs Linux issue? Nope. It's a consumer OS vs an embedded OS issue.

Windows wasn't intended for real stability. Sorry, but it's true. Truly stable OSes don't put the GUI code in kernel space, etc. It might be pretty good, most of the time, but there's a difference between 99.9% and 99.9999% which is closer to what you'd get with a specialized embedded OS running nothing more than is needed for the specific services required.

Linux is better at this, because you can easily strip out the bits you don't want and toss a simple GUI onto it, but even this isn't what I'd want for a fly-by-wire system that I was going to trust with my life.

It's all about fundamental design issues and methodology. MS is making a consumer OS for consumers, not an embedded OS for life-critical safety systems. You'd be silly if you expected otherwise.

[ Parent ]
The day I buy a BMW... (none / 0) (#23)
by sjl on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 01:58:51 AM EST

is the day that they prise my Vectra's keys out of my cold, dead hand. (Not to mention that they're far too expensive, but that's beside the point.)

This sort of thing is just plain insane. I mean, you want to increase the temperature of the cabin? Turn up the heating. Cool the cabin? Turn the heating down, and maybe turn on the air conditioner. I don't want to be fiddling with some controller to find the menu I want, the control I want, and then adjust it -- I want to be able to reach out, probably without even looking, and adjust it.

I'd much rather the dashboard with the umpteen thousand discrete controls than this. I've reached the point with my current car that I can turn on the headlights, change the radio channel, adjust the volume, adjust the temperature, all without taking my eyes off the road for more than a split second. If the situation looks like it's dangerous, I put up with the daggy song (or the cold, or the heat) for as long as it takes to deal with the problem.

Even if I win Tattslotto tomorrow, I very much doubt that I'll spend the money on a BMW, for this sole reason.

There's a discussion in the Risks digest: see this page, and this one for some details there.

This is beyond scary.. not because I'll have to use something like this, but because I'll have to deal with some driver who has to deal with this.

As a postscript: could somebody explain to me what "fly by wire" is? I'm not really clear on the concept, so an explanation in plain English would be very much appreciated.

[ Parent ]

Fly (drive) by wire (4.50 / 2) (#34)
by John Miles on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 04:21:02 AM EST

As a postscript: could somebody explain to me what "fly by wire" is? I'm not really clear on the concept, so an explanation in plain English would be very much appreciated.

Think of a classical "gas pedal" -- it's got a hinge-and-cable arrangement that opens up the engine's throttle mechanically when you step on the "gas" (really, air).

In drive-by-wire systems, there's no physical cable -- the accelerator pedal is bolted to a potentiometer shaft whose resistance is monitored by the car's engine-control computer. Step on the gas and the computer drives a solenoid that's attached to the throttle butterflies.

Advantages: Ease of coordination of throttle position with fuel injection, ignition timing, active suspension, emissions, and other vehicle controls. Easy implementation of features like cruise control. No cable to break. One less cable to route through the firewall.

Disadvantages: Can cause annoying lag if the computer's underpowered. Yet another impediment to instant throttle response (give me four Weber DCNFs any day of the week). Practical implementations require multiple potentiometers for redundancy. Hard for Joe's Garage to repair. Probably more expensive (I've seen throttle-by-wire on late-model Corvettes and a few other high-end cars, but it's not ubiquitous yet).

A full drive-by-wire system extends these concepts to steering and braking. In all cases, the idea is to replace mechanical linkages with electrical ones. Not many manufacturers have taken it beyond the throttle stage yet, though... the difference being, a software glitch in the throttle controller probably won't result in instant flaming death.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

re: Fly (drive) by wire (none / 0) (#54)
by weber on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 09:48:36 AM EST

A full drive-by-wire system extends these concepts to steering and braking. In all cases, the idea is to replace mechanical linkages with electrical ones. Not many manufacturers have taken it beyond the throttle stage yet, though... the difference being, a software glitch in the throttle controller probably won't result in instant flaming death.

The other reason they haven't done that yet is that for the brakes and the steering, the driver needs feedback from the pedal/wheel in order to properly control the car in an emergency situation. You need to be able to *feel* when the tires are sliding or when the brakes are getting heat-soaked.

My biggest problem with drive-by-wire systems is that they are controlled by the ECU, so no aftermarket ECU companies will upgrade them, out of liability concerns. (This is true at least in the sue-happy USA, I don't know about other countries).

As for the BMW 7-series, AutoWeek says that iDrive sucks.

[ Parent ]
Fly-by-wire and feedback (none / 0) (#126)
by phliar on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 12:58:06 AM EST

The other reason they haven't [replaced steering and braking with FBW] yet is that for the brakes and the steering, the driver needs feedback from the pedal/wheel in order to properly control the car in an emergency situation. You need to be able to *feel* when the tires are sliding or when the brakes are getting heat-soaked.
There is no technical reason the steering wheel and brake pedal cannot provide force feedback.

Also, I would claim that the average driver (and we're talking of volume production so it's average drivers, not you, O reader, I'm talking about!) does not know what the pedal or wheel feels like when the tires are sliding or when the brakes are overheating. And you, who knows that, you only know it if you're out there twice a year on the track practicing drifts and brake fade.

(Besides, the average non-deaf driver will usually not have a problem figuring out when the tires are sliding!)

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

Electronic Throttles (none / 0) (#59)
by katie on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 10:07:12 AM EST

They seem to be becoming more common on mid-range cars: the new Vauxhall/Opel Astras have them, for example.

[ Parent ]
Throttle glitches and flaming death (none / 0) (#84)
by Erbo on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:16:10 PM EST

a software glitch in the throttle controller probably won't result in instant flaming death.
It could be bad, though. If the throttle failed and cut your engine to idle, you'd have some chance of being able to coast off the road and glide to a stop, but it could just as easily fail in stuck-accelerator mode, which is very dangerous.

The only thing you could do in that situation is shift into Neutral, try to coast off the road and stop, and hope that the engine doesn't shred itself before you can cut the ignition. (Cutting the ignition while you're still rolling is not recommended, as you'd lose power assist on the steering and brakes, making it harder to maneuver to a safe stop out of traffic.) Screw up that maneuver, and you're liable to go hurtling off the road, or maybe slam into the back of a semi at 90 MPH. So you've got a likelihood of either serious injury or a colossal repair bill (blown engines ain't cheap to replace); I don't think I'd care to find out for myself what the outcome would be.

Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org
[ Parent ]

Oh, come on, I'm sure they aren't that stupid. (4.00 / 1) (#160)
by tech on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 12:41:43 AM EST

Most likely, the electronic handbrake has been designed either to lock up in an electrical failure, or has a stable backup system which also might cause the brakes to lock up if it fails.

Most trailers have batteries on them which lock their brakes if they become detached from the lead vehicle - this even applied to a simple flatbed with electromagnetic brakes.

Air brakes, contrary to most peoples' assumption, use the air pressure to push heavily spring-loaded shoes away from the disc or drum. If the air system fails, the brakes lock up. The electronic system could work the same way - it's really no more dangerous than air braking.

-- -- --
To email, remove the spam. I don't like Spam. I think I'll have the Spam Spam Spam Eggs Bacon Sausage and Spam, only without the Spam.
[ Parent ]

My Grandmother....... (3.80 / 5) (#15)
by jaymagee on Mon Apr 15, 2002 at 11:07:48 PM EST

.......... in one of these is a truly terrifying thought. this woman is still spooked when she hits the Onstar ( or whatever, you know what i mean) and the nice voice comes on and says hello when she is just trying to get the garage door open. At least she can handle stop and go, but htis thing would have her crashing in no time. Bad idea. bad, bad idea. Good article though, +1 FP.
Making a better humanity, one genetic change at a time.
Holy single knob, Batman! (4.87 / 8) (#16)
by sigwinch on Mon Apr 15, 2002 at 11:08:56 PM EST

Having extensively used laboratory equipment that is mostly controlled by a single knob (e.g., HP1650 logic analyzer), I predict that this experiment is doomed. That sort of interface is unacceptably baroque for use on a desktop, and will literally be a killer in a car. It's incredibly tedious to work your way through a menu system with a single knob, and finding unfamiliar functions is damn frustrating.

I'm not entirely against soft-knobs. The TDS3000 series of oscilloscopes uses soft-knobs and soft-buttons, but also has dedicated knobs and buttons for the most common functions. It works pretty well, about as well as you can expect from an instrument with so many functions.

Just for giggles, go look at the HP16500 logic analyzer. One knob and a screen. That's the entire user interface. Yay! Not.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.

Are you nuts? (none / 0) (#18)
by tjb on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:09:35 AM EST

HP (well, Agilent now) logic analyzers and spectrum analyzers are the best, period. The interface is simple and easy to use (though maybe not intuitive), they're fast, and they can output in a variety of formats. By far the best I've ever used, especially their spectrum analyzers.

Have you seen the shit that other companies are putting out now? We have techtronix analyzers at work that run Windows 98 for chrissake! They crash. A lot. And they generally blow in the interface department. Sure, they have a couple of features that the HPs don't (better capture macros on the logic analyzers, for instance), but they are pure torture to work with. I have enough shit on my bench without having to put a mouse and keyboard there to interface with a logic analyzer.

As for oscilloscopes, though, my favorites are the LeCroy scopes. 16 G sample/s on all four channels, tons of math functionality, great interface, plus can serve as a crude spectrum analyzer in a pinch with its FFT function.


[ Parent ]
No, not nuts (none / 0) (#22)
by sigwinch on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 01:43:15 AM EST

HP (well, Agilent now) logic analyzers and spectrum analyzers are the best, period.
In general, I agree. Their spectrum analyzers and RF communication test sets use knobs to great advantage. The HP1650's knob, however, is a user-interface disaster. It's so large that it's hard to turn, its tactile detent is too weak, it's too insensitive to motion (probably to compensate for the detent weakness), and once you select a function you have to push a separate button to trigger it. While I haven't used the 16500, the thought of a single knob as the entire user interface makes me shudder.
Have you seen the shit that other companies are putting out now? We have techtronix analyzers at work that run Windows 98 for chrissake! They crash. A lot.
Bwahahahaha! I would never buy such a beast. I've though a lot about test equipment design, and my conclusion is that fancy mouse GUI should go on a PC, which connects to the instrument over the LAN.
As for oscilloscopes, though, my favorites are the LeCroy scopes. 16 G sample/s on all four channels, tons of math functionality, great interface, plus can serve as a crude spectrum analyzer in a pinch with its FFT function.
**drool** If only I had the budget. As it is, the two-channel Tektronix TDS3xxx was a hard sell to the honchos at work.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

Re: Are you nuts? (none / 0) (#50)
by ShawnD on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 08:21:02 AM EST

Have you seen the shit that other companies are putting out now? We have techtronix analyzers at work that run Windows 98 for chrissake!
HP makes/made a few models (Sorry, can't remember the model) that run HPUX/fvwm95. They provide a keyboard on the front panel, but you still need the mouse. IDeadly they would have designed it to work without a mouse too.

The UI needs some work and is a little slow but very powerful. It also takes too long to startup/shutdown, test equipment should be ready within 1 minute of being turned on.

[ Parent ]

TDS3000 series (none / 0) (#19)
by John Miles on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:28:35 AM EST

The TDS3000 series of oscilloscopes uses soft-knobs and soft-buttons, but also has dedicated knobs and buttons for the most common functions. It works pretty well, about as well as you can expect from an instrument with so many functions.

That's a good example of a well-optimized human interface. The other day, somebody on sci.electronics.design was asking what everybody's "dream" oscilloscope UI design was, and I responded by suggesting they download the TDS3000 operator's manual. Common operations have buttons, advanced operations have (shallow) menu entries.

The single-knob logic analyzers were, indeed, an example of UI design that just plain didn't work. BMW could also learn from GM's own ill-fated attempt to put touch-screen CRTs (I kid you not) in the dashboard of the Buick Riviera in the early 1980s.

It seems that auto manufacturers just don't bother to think through the consequences of their design choices. For a long time it looked like test-equipment manufacturers were hiring the same people, but fortunately both Tek and HP/Agilent seem to have pulled out of the forehead-slapping logical tailspins that afflicted them in the 1980s. I really liked the TDS3034 I had for awhile... might pick up one of the new B-models if my 2467 ever breaks.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Few points (3.09 / 11) (#17)
by strlen on Mon Apr 15, 2002 at 11:39:05 PM EST

The new 7-series also happens to look like ass. Chris Bangle (who designed it), needs to be shot (proverbally, no violent threads intended) and then hired as a designed for Pontiac (their designers are braindead anyways). Personally, I prefer to have as much control over the car as possible. I have drive-by-wire on my current car (where basically the throttle body is controlled via an electronic sensor that is only attached to my gas pedal). I hate it! It lags, and it doesn't allow me to perform left-foot-braking (a usefull technique for performance driving and auto-cross racing). And I'm even willing to cash out money for a manual throttle conversion. I would also imagine that an electronic e-brake wouldn't allow me to perform e-brake slides, which can be used in certain driving situations or in case of an emergecy to perform a 360 spin around.

I also happen to detest daytime running lights, yet my automotive manufacturer seems to like them. However, few hacks with electric masking tape disabled the horrendously dumb idea -- hint: if I wanted to have lights on, I'd.... turn them on! What else do I hate about modern cars? The braindead airbag system. If there's any damage to my cars seats (or I happen to change them and put in their place Recaro racing seats), an electronics system will disabled all airbags in the car, as it can no longer sense the side airbags in the seats.

What else do I hate about the current cars? Well I hate automagic transmissions in any case, that's a no-brainer, and the 745i doesn't even offer one for someone who may like to use the clutch for a change. Nor is it offered in the US in excellent European cars like the Audi S8 or the Audi S6, and majority of Audi S4's (my next new or lightly used purchase.. basically my over 30k purchase) are automagic as well. Granted automatic transmissions are great for learning to drive a car, but then, why not at least offer a manual transmissions in factory-tuned sports cars like the Audi S-series! And there's no way in hell 250, 300, or 350 horsepower world-class sports car is car for learning on, a concept that millionaire fathers/mothers of snot-nosed tantrum-throwing kiddies haven't learned.

What else do I hate? I hate the way factory stereo system are done. The 02 version of the car same as mine utilizes a half-assed out-sourced stereo system.. which any audiphile (like myself would change in a flash), with a fuzzy sounding head unit. But however, the way the head unit in the 02 models works is through the ECU, and there's no way I one get an adapter (or at least no way in at least 6 months, and no way without spending good amount of cash) to put in a better head unit.

What would I want in a car? An onboard diagnostic system (OBD II) integrated into the dash, or on-board computer. When I get an EPC light on my car, for instance, it may mean my gas-tank lid is not screwed on tight enough (triggering a code at one sensor).. or that my brake-light isn't working (because a switch that detects braking (located behind my brake pedal) is stuck, and that throws a different code). And yes that actually happened to me. Or when I get an airbag light, it doesn't tell me which one of the 6 airbags is having trouble, or what sort of trouble with it. In my case it turned out that a sensor wiring harness is loose in my steering wheel airbag, and airbag would still have deployed!

For more technical things, I'd like to see a variablly geared rear (or front on FWD cars) differnetial. Most CVT transmissions have variable gearing, meaning again, they're automagics (like the Audi or Honda CVT) transmissions. Yet a variably geared rear differential (either a setting for a higher top speed and better fuel economy and better range of speeds through the gears, or a setting for a tighter gear ratio, for more acceleration in any given gear), would allow you to have your convential 5 or 6 speed manual transmission.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
Exactly! (none / 0) (#20)
by rantweasel on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:46:24 AM EST

Everything you said! I'd be a lot more forgiving of the horrors of drive by wire if the designer had kept his eyes open while he was working. As much as I lust after fine German engineering, they keep trying to push me towards something else.


[ Parent ]
What are you talking about? (2.57 / 7) (#31)
by Sethamin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 03:35:18 AM EST

Left-foot braking? Handbrake slides? Airbag systems not working intelligently with your racing seats? What on God's earth are you talking about?

Even if I were to grant you the benefit of the doubt that you actually care about all these things, your comments have no relevance to the topic at hand. The author is talking about general safety for everyone based on a different car UI; you're talking about what you hate about current car models. And that's on top of the fact that 99.999% of the people in the world have no clue what you're babbling about. And the other 0.001% aren't reading this site.

A society should not be judged by its output of junk, but by what it thinks is significant. -Neil Postman
[ Parent ]

Hey! (none / 0) (#36)
by DanTheCat on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 04:36:39 AM EST

I'm reading this site... :)

And while I pretty much agree with you, I also agree (and understand) with the parent poster also. (don't want airbags? Get a car from the early 90's/late 80's like me!)

I think it's rather annoying how integrated and electronicallized (yes, not a real word) cars are becoming. I don't think I would ever voluntarily ride, let alone drive, a fly-by-wire car. That just scares me.

Dan :)

I was in need of help
Heading to black out
'Til someone told me 'run on in honey
Before someone blows your god damn brains out'<
[ Parent ]

Perils of over-computerising. (4.75 / 4) (#57)
by katie on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 10:02:35 AM EST

I'm hacking down the slip-road joining the M42 and the M6 one evening, when there's a sort of "sproing" and the speedo falls to zero.

"Ah. That would be the speedo cable going then."

Since I know how to relate the revs to the speed of the car, I figure I'll fix it when I get there.

Join the M6, and start to overtake a truck. As I get the car to 70, I pop it into fifth. The drop in revs causes the EMU to check the speedo input, it finds that to be zero, panics and turns the engine off...

I stamp on the clutch to keep the car rolling, turn the ignition to restart the engine and it turns on the "engine might be broken" light and won't restart it.

{Just as an aside, the manual says when the light's on, the EMU will revert to a "safe" mode where the car will drive, but just not be as fuel efficient.}

I let go the clutch and, well, rolling-start the engine. In the fast lane of the M6, doing 60, still alongside the truck...

It transpires: the EMU's speedo input is tapped off from the dash speedo, so if that fails, so does the EMU.

I was NOT impressed by that behaviour. Turning on the "take me to a garage" light I'll allow. Turning off the engine without me asking it to seems a bit presumptive. It continued doing that - turning the ignition off everytime the revs dropped while the engine was under load - until I took it the garage and had the cable replaced.

[ Parent ]
Good on ya! (none / 0) (#76)
by CodeWright on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:51:48 AM EST

Seriously, good thinking!

Just imagine what would have happened to someone less capable....

"Humanity's combination of reckless stupidity and disrespect for the mistakes of others is, I think, what makes us great." --Parent ]
Capable. (none / 0) (#128)
by katie on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 06:04:45 AM EST

I'm not sure I'm that capable a driver: in retro-spect, I probably shouldn't have got myself into that situation by carrying on without a speedo...

Safe drivers aren't the ones that heroically save the day: they're the ones that don't need to.

[ Parent ]
Glib (none / 0) (#130)
by PigleT on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 06:41:16 AM EST

"Safe drivers aren't the ones that heroically save the day: they're the ones that don't need to. "

It's not just the glibness of that cliche that annoys the pants off me, it's the fact it's such obvious BS when you take into account the fact that other cretins exist on the road.

It's not my fault I was stationary to let some damned BMW through a double-parked street, that's good driving; what's bad is the pillock who comes flying round the corner behind where I'm waiting, not looking where he's going, and costs me a new rear bumper.
Show me how I could've avoided that one happening, and I'll let you keep your cliche.
~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]
Cliche (none / 0) (#136)
by katie on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 10:33:49 AM EST

It's not a cliche - it's part of advanced driving philosophy. (I do intend to finish that, but currently I'm recovering from a busted leg. Gained, amusingly enough, on a go-karting track...)

You couldn't have avoided that, but on the other hand there was no heroic action you could have taken to prevent it either. Your car could equally have been hit somewhere while you weren't in it.

The cliche is about things like recovering cars from skids.. good drivers should never need to. If you slide the car, you are going too fast for the circumstances. You don't pass IAM tests by skillfully recovering the car from every potentially fatal situation you put it into: getting into them is enough to fail you.

{There is an argument that IAM driving standards doesn't necessarily represent "good" driving, but statistically they ARE less likely to be invoved in accidents...}

My point was that by overtaking things in an already known broken car, I kind of brought the need to do "neat" things like "bump starting while it's moving" on myself.

I shouldn't have put myself in the situation: and neither should my car's manufacturer...

[ Parent ]
better... (none / 0) (#155)
by PigleT on Thu Apr 18, 2002 at 05:36:45 AM EST

It's still a little glib, and I'm not wholly convinced about your recovery (I *was* in the car, with engine on, at the time - there's no getting away from it!), but I'll let that one pass.

"like recovering cars from skids.. good drivers should never need to."

Probably not, but balance that the other way, you've got to skid every car you drive at least *once* to *know how it'll handle*. Not necessarily in the middle of a crowded carpark or busy street, but test-drive it and push the performance. It's folks who take what you say *too* far that are the ones who get caught out, aren't confident on snow/ice, yadda - I begin to think, if $you don't know what $you're doing with the car, in particular what it *can* do, then $you shouldn't be behind the wheel.

"getting into [sticky situations] is enough to fail you."

I should think so too. If you can avoid it, when driving "for real", then you must. I know about anticipation, and practice it lots myself (seeing police-cars coming round blind corners by reflections in shop windows seems to be par for the course in Croydon...).

""bump starting while it's moving" on myself."

You've still not lived until you've stalled (manual gearbox required) by kicking the clutch down hard at 70 on a motorway *and* bump-started it again ;8)

~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]
That sounds slightly worse than Chrysler's system. (5.00 / 1) (#96)
by nstenz on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 01:47:11 PM EST

The A604/41TE 4-speed automatic transmission is a royal pain in the ass if the speed sensor goes out. It drops the car into 2nd gear so you can "safely" get it somewhere to be fixed. It doesn't care how fast you're going at the time, because it can't tell- you can be doing 80 on the freeway, and it'll kindly drop it into 2nd for you.

40 mph in 2nd gear is a little over 4000 rpm on my Stratus. People have gotten in pretty bad accidents by losing control at higher speeds.

At least I could still drive the car (slowly) to the shop to get it fixed.

[ Parent ]

that's pretty bad (none / 0) (#107)
by strlen on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 04:45:20 PM EST

my car's limit in the 2nd is 68 or so, so i guess it would kind of suck if you're doing 85 on the freeway, some major over-revving would happen :-) the VW automagics however, in case of a problem leave the car in its current gear, and then allow you to place it in 3rd where you can then manually switch it back between 3rd and 2nd.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
There is a rev limiter. (none / 0) (#114)
by nstenz on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 07:32:48 PM EST

6250 rpm, I believe. It'll shift at that point if your foot's in the floor. If it can't shift, I think it will cut fuel- I'm not positive about this. However, seeing as how it cuts fuel at 110 mph (stupid limiter which will soon be mostly disabled), this would make sense.

[ Parent ]
rev limiter (none / 0) (#119)
by strlen on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 09:14:20 PM EST

hmm, in case of vw the rev limiter wouldn't work when you're shifted down from one gear into another, as far as i know, at least for the manual transmissions, and would only work when you're flooring it in gear.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
In that case, you're screwed. (none / 0) (#134)
by nstenz on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 09:46:53 AM EST

There isn't a whole lot you can do with a manual. It'll cut the gas, but you'll still have to wait for it to slow down.

Until I swap it out, I'm stuck with my crappy automatic that sucks up power like a sponge and very efficiently converts it to heat (ick). I shouldn't need more than $1000 in parts, so I should be able to get that done by the end of summer. I'll post a nice diary entry about it when I do.

[ Parent ]

heh (none / 0) (#138)
by strlen on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 01:34:15 PM EST

well that's why you don't mis shift it from 5th to 2nd :-) the gear ratios are setup in a way that you can use the transmission to slow it down from 3rd by putting into 2nd, etc.. plus, engine braking isn't that good of an idea anyway (its hard on the trans and the engine, and you can do it with an automatic to, just use the shift lever to put into "3" instead of "Drive 4") just press the clutch, hit the brake (and put into neutral to stop completely).

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
Engine braking is a bad idea with my (auto) tranny (none / 0) (#147)
by nstenz on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 05:22:40 PM EST

It'll blow up on you eventually. However, I was doing it recently because my brake rotors were completely warped. Thank God I fixed that problem.

When I drove a 5-speed car, I used to engine brake all of the time, especially down the hill to the stop sign by my house. That, combined with having to let the clutch slip horribly to get up the driveway at work in winter, had me going at the rate of 1 clutch per year. It didn't help that the clutch was touchy as all hell...

[ Parent ]

My airbag (none / 0) (#79)
by strlen on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:58:46 AM EST

My airbag issue isn't that I don't like airbags, in fact i do. Its the fact that the airbag system has a moronic design, where a problem with one airbag, would turn of the entire airbag system, and the problem with one airbag may too easily be triggered by a problem with the seat, such as a rip in leather, or if the seat has been removed to be cleaned (and the airbag system won't turn itself back on without an expensive diagnostic tool). Also, getting a pre-91 car in any case, is a pain in the ass, due to the fact it's probably been beat on and has over 100,000 miles on the odometer. Especially getting a second hand sports car, where one of the driver is surely a 16 year old without a slightest clue on how the car is to be driven.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
What i'm talking about (5.00 / 1) (#71)
by strlen on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:35:08 AM EST

What I'm talking about is the overall moronic design of most current car electronic systems, as in a way to that the driver is not under full control of the vehicle (not being able to control the full airbag system, sloppy drive-by-wire which fails to account for driver preference). If you also read the post, you'd see me addressing many other issues like proper on-board diagnostics, a standardized system for wiring of electronics system, and few points on transmissions.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
Let me guess: You own a VW? (none / 0) (#83)
by Robert Minichino on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:02:55 PM EST

As far as automotive sound systems go, the electronics are usually great; however the amplifiers are usually the horribly underpowered BTL sort that don't put out any more than 18 real undistorted watts into 4 ohm loads, and the speakers are usually unacceptably cheap.

In the Bosch throttle-by-wire system, the throttle lag is actually PROGRAMMED into it, and can be reduced considerably with different settings.

There are airbag bypass harnesses that allow the seats to be removed without effecting the functionality of the rest of the airbag system.

And I agree that tying the most commonly-replaced component of a car (the radio) into the vehicles CANbus for silly one-wire operations like dimming and accessory power is incredibly silly.

And the no-information EPC lights should be augmented by into some onboard system. Even if it just read out codes you had to look up in the manual. Some cars can blink out status with a special jumper wire (OBD I VWs, IIRC), but why jump through hoops?

As far as DRLs go, I think they're wonderful, but they should be easily disabled.

[ Parent ]
Wow (none / 0) (#86)
by strlen on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:25:37 PM EST

As for automotive sound systems, test drive any 02 VW with the monsoon option, and you'll note that it completely lacks any bass or trebble, due to a badly executed head unit (which can't be swapped). It's actually a problem that VW recognize, and so far I'm not sure if there's a fix you can get at the dealership. Though some people have attempted to fix it by resoldering some of the wires in the head unit.

Yes, I do own a VW. About the throttle-by-wire setup, I doubt the setting can be changed without getting an overall ECU tune, there's no easy way to do it. I'm also aware of being able to read the code using either the VAG-COM (a rather expensive adapter and propritary software to enable to use certain brand of laptops with certain types of serial ports to read the OBD II scan codes) tool, or the official VAS-1552 diagnostic tool (which is very expensive and probably can't be operated from an average garage). Point is, however, that I don't have a laptop with a vag tool, a robert bentley manual, with me all the times (may be I should?), as that would be quite a lot to carry, nor are any of these cheap. What I'd like to see is for cars that have an on-board computer (like the GLX versions of the Passat, GTI and Jetta) to have that on-board computer display the fault code. So basically, I'd like to see what the actual problem is, without having to take it to the dealership.

I don't like DRL's at alls, but yes, they are easily disabled, if you can cut electric tape accurately and place it over the "TFL" (german for daytime running lights) pin in the light-switch. -- And I often cant, I'm pretty sloppy, and my tape flies off time after time :-) I'd personally prefer to simply have a setting in the light switch to trigger a 90% reduce lighting setting, rather than have the lights go on all the time. Personally, I think the DRL's in my partof the US are a nuisance, in that they create even more glare, despite the almost perpetual presence of the sun, they make motorcyclists less visible on the road, and they distract and confuse other drivers (is there a fog bank near by? is the driver trying to get my attention by having the lights on?).

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
The Monsoon is buggy (none / 0) (#137)
by Robert Minichino on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 11:01:49 AM EST

Apparently, the polarity is switched for the right-front channel at the HU, and for the right-front tweeter at the output of the Monsoon amp.

Adjusting DBW lag does require an entire ECU reprogram (i.e. "chipping").

I'd like the industry to settle on a standard "control" bus for audio. That would let them integrate the stereo controls into whatever they wanted, and still allow aftermarket replacements. But while I'm at it, I'll ask for world peace, and equal rights for all people. :)

And having the on-board computer display status codes would definately be a boon. Being able to set them through there would be great as well.

[ Parent ]
"Automagic" (none / 0) (#93)
by notcarlos on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 01:11:57 PM EST

Yes, one use is cute, and indeed I use the word myself, but for goodness' sake, the linkage and assembly itself are automatic.

He will destroy you like an academic ninja.
-- Rating on Rate My Professors.com
[ Parent ]
Dear god no (4.37 / 8) (#21)
by bugmaster on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 01:24:08 AM EST

Yeah, I can see myself now: "Hey, I am driving uphill, better switch to low gear... What the ? The radio came on... er, that wasn't it. How about... Oooh look, cool winamp plugin on my dashboard ! Shiny... Hey why does the road feel so smooth all of the sudden ? Um... where's the grooouuuuuuaaaaghhhh *splat*"

I'll take the old-fashioned controls any time, thanks. They don't require me to memorize Graffiti commands, or take my eyes away from the road, or anything like that.

Instead, the feature that I think we actually need on the car is a detailed damage report screen. Games have had them for ages. You know the drill: a green wireframe outline of the car, with problem areas marked in red, with helpful text hints such as "Warning: Fuel Low" or "Alert: Coolant Leak" or "Enemy Powerup: Detected" or "Critical hit: Jump Jet Exhaust Port". Er... Those last two were flashbacks to the glory days of Battletech, but you know what I mean. By contrast, the "Check Engine" light that is present in many modern cars is eminently unhelpful. Check engine where ? For what ?

If safety is a concern (and it is), make the damage report screen light up only when the car is parked; so there is no way for the driver to tey rerouting power to thrusters and getting mesmerised while driving on the road. Anyways, I can't count the number of times that a screen like that could have saved my ass. Sure beats a confusing postmodern input device.

Check engine (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by katie on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 06:10:19 AM EST

It's not so much "check engine" as "take car to have engine checked"

Opening the bonnet is of little use; anything that the average user could fix going wrong would stop the car. Most of the engine of a car these days is software and requires big boxes of diagnostic kit to work out what's happened.

I mean, even if you got something that told you the message "arg! hit illegal state in fiddle_fuel_flow_for_cruising() please upgrade me", uploading a bios patch to the EMU is a bit beyond everyone but the dealer...

[ Parent ]
No it's not (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by bugmaster on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 07:21:18 AM EST

Most of the engine of a car these days is software and requires big boxes of diagnostic kit to work out what's happened.
I don't think so. Read the BMW site - they are basically putting a 386 into that car. That runs WinCE. That's more than enough to collate the data from all the sensors, and display them on some screen. It's the same thing that the little box (it's not THAT big) that the car technician uses, but more convenient.

Bottom line is, when the "check engine" light comes on, I want to know why. Which of the hundreds of sensors in my car has fired a warning ? Where in the car do I look for leaks, flames, missing bolts, etc. ? Is this a catastrophe, like brake system failure, or merely an error in my climate control software, which I can live without (until I get home) ? The "check engine" light doesn't say. The damage report screen would. Note that I fully acknowledge the fact that I might not be able to fix the damage myself; all I want is to be informed. Furthermore,

uploading a bios patch to the EMU is a bit beyond everyone but the dealer...
Why is that ? If we are talking about uber-sophisticated software, there should be an update tool for it as well. Actually, in order to really meet safety standards, the software shouldn't need a patch anyway; however, a little wire that connects to my computer (or directly to the phone line) and updates the software is not too much to ask for, I think. The aforementioned dealer is not really going to hack the firmware himself, after all -- he will have to get the upgrade just like I would. Note that this discussion of software upgrades is really not that important, though -- most car problems are purely mechanical.

Actually, while we are on the subject of computerized assistance, I want more than the damage report. I want to be able to park my car, touch the screen, and display detailed data for gas mileage, oil consumption, antifreeze levels, etc. I want to be able to glance at the screen and say, "hmmm, the oil usage has increased fivefold since last month... Maybe I have a slow leak somewhere ?" Note that the average user probably won't be able to use that screen; this is fine. I am (hypothetically) buing a luxury BMW car, not your standard SUV; so I want the best utilities. And, once again, a silvery space-knob that causes me to turn on the windshield wipers instead of switching on the AC is somewhat less than helpful.
[ Parent ]

Computerized maintenance logs (4.00 / 1) (#87)
by Erbo on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:29:30 PM EST

If the car could keep its own maintenance logs, that would be cool. I've got a program for my Palm that keeps vehicle maintenance records, gas mileage, and so forth; there's no reason a sophisticated vehicle computer couldn't do the same, maybe with an option to download the records to your home PC (or maybe your PDA, for transfer to your home PC).

And being able to tell the car to run a "Level 4 diagnostic" on all key systems would be a handy thing to be able to do before starting out on a long trip. That way, I'd know if it would be smart to take the car in for servicing. (My Olds, and my wife's Saturn, can do at least a small part of that now; a light in its caution/warning system tells me when it needs an oil change.)

Just have the car lock out all that functionality when it's actually in motion...

Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org
[ Parent ]

The "Check engine" light (none / 0) (#132)
by fr2ty on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 08:18:46 AM EST

I experienced the light to be triggered by several problems, lack of oil, poor air flow through the filters etc., sometimes even vendor technicians were not able to fix it or to tell me what it meant. There seem to be different systems with different cars.

I love cars I still understand, cars that don't hide all function parts under plastic. I hate it when the garage bill only states repairs that I could really have fixed by myself. But I guess the average BMW 7 driver won't bother, and that's OK.
Please note that are neither capitals nor numbers in my mail adress.
[ Parent ]
Older ECU systems are easy though (none / 0) (#62)
by gordonjcp on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 10:20:39 AM EST

The Bosch Motronic ECU's and, indeed, most others, have a diags connector that you connect a simple tester to (a volt meter will do, at a pinch). This blinks a numeric fault code out on an LED in the tester.
For example, I can read out faults from my suspension ECU (12 - start, 21 - brake pressure switch, 24 - stiffness valve, 11 - end, kind of thing), and my heater ECU. If I had the throttle-body injection system, instead of LE2-Jetronic, I could read out injection system faults. On the V6 models, I can even use it to bugger about with the timing and mapping...

Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll bore you rigid with fishing stories for the rest of your life.

[ Parent ]
Better UI (none / 0) (#113)
by bugmaster on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 06:32:12 PM EST

Cool; I did not know that they had that many sensors already. Now, all I ask for is a user-friendly screen, instead of the voltmeter (even though the voltmeter is cooler, of course). Then, I could park the car, click the screen, watch the injection system light up in red, and read a report of which sensor reported the failure - as opposed to trying to connect the correct voltmeter leads to the correct places, in the dark, while it's raining outside.

Oh, and I want an emotionless yet strangely alluring computer voice to tell me, "Warning: Injection System Failure. Warp core breach immintent in 13... 12... 11...". Er, ok, maybe not :-)
[ Parent ]

Newer ones plug into a laptop. (none / 0) (#133)
by gordonjcp on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 08:20:49 AM EST

The CANBUS systems used in most modern cars hooks up to a special industrial PC, which can identify the type of car and run the appropriate checks...

Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll bore you rigid with fishing stories for the rest of your life.

[ Parent ]
Check Engine (5.00 / 1) (#106)
by b1t r0t on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 04:16:27 PM EST

I think they're generally attached to an oxygen sensor or something. What the "Check Engine" light in a modern car really means is usally one of two things: either you forgot to put the gas cap back on (which of course has nothing at all to do with the engine) or the oxygen sensor has failed (since it's the sensor that this light is based on).

I guess it's for some sort of emissions control system. But it's stupid that it usually either means the sensor is broken or that there is a non-engine-related problem.

-- Indymedia: the fanfiction.net of journalism.
[ Parent ]

UI lessons from video games (5.00 / 1) (#121)
by MrMikey on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 09:44:12 PM EST

We've all played games in which your "survival" is a matter of split-second decisions based on many factors. We fly our X-Wings and drive our tanks, and expect to get fast, clear info as to the state of our vehicles. Why don't we get that kind of info when driving our cars?

I expect the industry's answer is: "Those features aren't wanted enough by most of our customers so as to justify the cost increase."

A possible solution: a software-driven dashboard. Use a simple interface for those who want it, and a more complex one for those who want that. Then again, perhaps I've watched too much Star Trek, and am enraptured by the idea of combination displays / controls that can be reconfigured on the fly. :) Still, this would allow manufacturers to make only one dashboard, which they could then reconfigure to match the car.

Speaking of displays, aren't there a few cars out there who project "head's up" displays onto the windshield? I wouldn't mind that either.

[ Parent ]

Plus (none / 0) (#145)
by cpt kangarooski on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 04:33:50 PM EST

In the video games, we also get extra lives. I've been overwhelmed by having too much information with too poor a UI on games before -- I'd hate to have it happen in real life. (other games have done fairly well -- the first Star Wars game on the N64 had displays that would slowly fade out when not needed. I was impressed) Boeing Cockpit Syndrome is generally a bad thing, the way I see it.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
my ideal (2.50 / 2) (#24)
by zephc on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 02:06:42 AM EST

car interface would be like the ship in The Flight of the Navigator... that was sweet, the two floating pods =]

It still has a steering wheel (2.66 / 3) (#25)
by KWillets on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 02:48:15 AM EST

When are they going to take a tip from the wheelchair industry and replace it with a joystick?

ummm (none / 0) (#26)
by eviltwin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 02:50:09 AM EST

read the article.

All generalisations are false, including this one.
[ Parent ]
I did read the article (none / 0) (#30)
by KWillets on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 03:13:58 AM EST

And clicked a few links. So far, one big knob. The knob breaks or the crackheads break in and steal it, and you're screwed.

[ Parent ]
Saaaaaaaab did, tested but not production (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by BobRobertson on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 03:03:45 AM EST

Saab produced a single handle style system, it was held like you would shake hands with Robot from Lost In Space. Push in for faster, pull out to engage brakes, rotate left and right to steer.

I know it worked, but that was 15 years ago. I don't think it ever went production.

There is one good reason not to go completely to drive-by-wire: Stuff Happens. If you loose power you can still get the mechanical leverage with a steering wheel to pilot to safety.

September 11, 2001. The most successful day for gun control and central planning in American history.
[ Parent ]
Power... (none / 0) (#39)
by jonr on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 05:15:39 AM EST

Since most modern car have power steering, this argument not so strong. I've noticed that it is quite difficult trying to steer my 3 year old Golf when the engine is not running eg. But Saabs are cool, nevertheless :)

[ Parent ]
Steering without power (none / 0) (#45)
by YesNoCancel on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 06:51:11 AM EST

Well, it depends on speed - the faster the car is, the easier it is to steer without power steering - and of course it also depends on strength. :)

My car doesn't have power steering at all. On the other hand, it weighs only 720 kg.

[ Parent ]

Steering Locks... (none / 0) (#53)
by Afty on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 09:36:02 AM EST

When your engine is not running, your steering lock usually becomes active, preventing you from turning the wheel at all.

'Power Steering' as we know it in modern cars is actually 'Power Assisted Steering' in that the amount of force you need to put in to turn the car is lessened, not completely nullified.

The power steering system gets weaker and weaker (requiring more and more effort from the driver) as the speed rises - but you can still turn the car just like a non-power assisted steering car.

If the power steering system fails you can wrench the wheel around to perform maneuvres. On the other hand, if a fly by wire system fails (I would be terrified to drive a car which had fly-by-wire brakes...) you have no way at all to perform maneuvres, while the car could still be travelling fast.

At high speeds (I like to drive down country roads late at night at over 100mph) power steering has almost no effect, if you can drive in these circumstances, you can drive no problem if the system fails. If you can't turn the wheel in these circumstances, I suggest you go to the gym.

[ Parent ]
Steering Locks (none / 0) (#58)
by Xtacy on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 10:02:39 AM EST

I don't know what kind of car you drive, but any car i've ever seen turns fine if the engine fails (ie. off)...however if you turn your key completely off then the steering locks. of course, if your engine dies and you turn the key completely off, you deserve your steering lock :)

[ Parent ]
Not only does my steering work. (none / 0) (#164)
by DavidTC on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 04:06:50 PM EST

But I still have power steering/brakes, as long as the car is moving at a reasonable speed.

I just found this out the other day, and I'm not entirely sure what's going on, but I believe it's getting the power from the wheels turning.

It's not unduly hard to brake from 50 mph without the engine, the hardest part is the last 10 mph.

I was on an actual road, so couldn't really test the steering, because I was sane and tested this on a straight stretch of road.

I also discovered my engine instantly comes back on if I move the key back into position, which is rather nifty.

I have an Pontiac, if anyone cares.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

Why is hydraulics safer than electrical? (4.00 / 1) (#92)
by rebelcool on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:52:02 PM EST

If you develop a crack in a brake line and lose hydraulic pressure, your brakes are useless.

Indeed, such a system has many points of failure. Pistons, fluid lines, the pump... a brake-by-wire system greatly simplifies all of that by implementing a pedal travel detector connected to a computer (chock full of well-tested, proven algorithm code..a brake system is actually very easy to program and validate) which is then connected by wires to the braking mechanism.

Far fewer mechanical parts means far fewer points of failure.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Fly-By-Wire, Reliability, and Luddism (none / 0) (#123)
by phliar on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 12:18:55 AM EST

I would be terrified to drive a car which had fly-by-wire brakes...
Not to pick on this comment, a lot of people in this thread have said things to the effect of how they wouldn't like fly-by-wire (FBW) controls.

Many modern airliners are completely FBW -- and that means more than just the fact that the controls are not physically connected to the machinery, but they're just inputs to a computer that decides what controls to send to what part of the machine. Would you FBW-skeptics refuse to board an Airbus?

Don't forget that cables and hydraulic lines break too, and computers and electronics can be made arbitarily reliable (given unlimited amounts of money). The size of the market is so much bigger for cars than for airliners that a total FBW control system -- steering wheel, pedals, everything is only connected to the computer -- would not be unreasonably expensive.

Of course an FBW car wouldn't satisfy the needs of the enthusiast. Necessarily.

I say that because I'm a pilot, and complete aviation nut; I really want to work on the airplanes I fly except it's illegal. However I can't wait for a FADEC -- full-authority digital engine control, or electronic throttle -- in the airplanes I fly because managing the engine is a huge chore in most light airplanes. What I want is a button marked "start" and a power lever; a dial marked "power" and one marked "endurance" [at current power setting]. What I have: a throttle that controls manifold pressure (M.P.), mixture that controls fuel/air ratio, and prop which controls engine RPM. Additionally there's carb. heat (or alt. air intake if fuel-injected) and cowl flaps that control cooling air into the engine compartment. Instruments to be monitored are M.P., RPM, exhaust gas temp., and cylinder head temp. If the engine is turbocharged that brings additional controls and monitors (turbine inlet temp., turbine RPM). You also have to figure out fuel flow (to make sure you will have enough fuel for your planned destination) and power being generated (to make sure you don't go above any limits) -- these are table lookups based on atmospheric pressure, temperature, M.P. and RPM.

Compared to all that, flying is a cake-walk, and navigation is a dawdle!

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

Drive by wire... (none / 0) (#90)
by rebelcool on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:43:11 PM EST

...most airplanes designed within the past 25 years have been entirely fly by wire...

I think drive by wire is safe enough for cars, now.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Fine, then do airline-level continual maintenance (none / 0) (#153)
by BobRobertson on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 10:05:12 PM EST

The argument against fly-by-wire in a car is much more than just "airplanes do it."

This is a normal passenger car we're talking about. The car is damned lucky if it has an owner that remembers to change the oil! A fly-by-wire system works in an airliner because of continual maintenance. Every time that plane is used, it's in "near as perfect" condition as possible.

Look at the driver who runs out of gas. Would you expect that something like filling the gas tank, which they forgot to do, would give confidence that they will do the continual maintenance required to keep their fly-by-wire system error free?

Saab did something else, since I owned one I can talk about it: Purely mechanical hand brake. If the hydrolic system, electrical system, engine, everything in fact at 100mph, you could still bring the car to a safe stop.

If power stearing fails, as I said before, you can still pilot the car perfectly well. It's just not easy.

I will gladly take "not easy" mechanical systems over "Ooops, you lost power. You die."


September 11, 2001. The most successful day for gun control and central planning in American history.
[ Parent ]
Check out Opel Signum2 concept car.. (none / 0) (#51)
by yanisa on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 08:39:24 AM EST

.. here.

Summary: there are no pedals, the steering wheel is airplane-like. You accelerate by twisting both (or just one) handles like on a motorcycle and brake by squeezing the handles (or just one). The turning radius of the steering "wheel" is very small - like a quarter turn to each side. The local magazine tester bitched about it in the beginning, but after some on-the-fly adjustments by the Opel engineer on the passenger seat the driving was supposed to be smooth.

It looks much better than a joystick to me (although the good old clutch/manual gearshift is still optimal for me).


I think this line's mostly filler
[ Parent ]

Joystick in the 7 (none / 0) (#73)
by strlen on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:40:12 AM EST

I believe the 7 does feature a type of a joystick which controls the gear shift and to some extent the navigation system. Not sure exactly how it operates, but there's some joystick.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
Blah down with BMW! (3.00 / 2) (#27)
by techwolf on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 02:56:28 AM EST

thier site doesn't sit well with Mozilla...they don't support open source ! boycott BMW!!!

; } hehe, really though Moz doesn't like the site, but i like thier cars....just waaaay outta my price range as a student.

"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." - Thomas Jefferson
Agreed !=Netscape too (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by BobRobertson on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 02:59:59 AM EST

It chokes on Netscape as well.

...or is it that netscape chokes on it? Hmmmm....
September 11, 2001. The most successful day for gun control and central planning in American history.
[ Parent ]
Sucks in IE6 too (5.00 / 1) (#48)
by squee on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 07:52:14 AM EST

I thought maybe i needed to report a bug in Mozilla so it tested with IE6 and it still looked shit. Maybe the author of this story directly linked to something that was supposed to be framed. Maybe the person who wrote the website did not do any/enough testing.

[ Parent ]
That's pretty sad. (none / 0) (#97)
by nstenz on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 01:55:06 PM EST

I saw it didn't work for crap in Mozilla, and was wondering if it was worth the effort to try IE. I guess not.

[ Parent ]
Why is everyone so negative? (3.33 / 6) (#32)
by Sethamin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 03:42:02 AM EST

I don't quite understand why everyone is so down on this new system. Do we all fear change that much?

I'll be the first to agree that a totally intuitive system is the safest for all involved. But, if noone ever tries anything new then we're locked into that system forever. For one thing none of us (as far as I can tell) have ever used this new interface, yet we there are comments talking about how it is already doomed. Secondly, shouldn't someone in the ultra-conservative car industry try something innovative and maybe, just maybe, create a car interface that's (*gasp*) better than the model we have now?

I applaud BMW for trying. It has yet to be seen whether it's a success, but maybe that means we'll get some advancement in this area instead of everyone being treated like a old dog who can't learn any new tricks. Yes, there will be some tough times in transition, but what if this new interface ends up being infinitely MORE intuitive, after the learning curve, than the ones in use today? I say it's worth the risk.

A society should not be judged by its output of junk, but by what it thinks is significant. -Neil Postman

Negativity (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by John Miles on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 04:24:40 AM EST

I don't quite understand why everyone is so down on this new system.

Because the old one works. That places the burden squarely on those who want change for its own sake.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Change for its own sake? (4.00 / 2) (#37)
by Sethamin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 04:38:40 AM EST

Because the old one works. That places the burden squarely on those who want change for its own sake.

First of all, how do you figure it's "change for its own sake"? That seems like a pretty bold statement for something you've never even used. What if it IS better?

Secondly, I hardly think that's a very complete metric for anything. If that were the case, we'd all still be playing with Nintendo controllers. I mean, MAYBE people can learn to use more than two buttons, but, hey, who REALLY wants to find out? Better to stick to what we know.

A society should not be judged by its output of junk, but by what it thinks is significant. -Neil Postman
[ Parent ]

There's a big difference... (4.00 / 1) (#99)
by Erbo on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 02:03:21 PM EST

If you screw up a move on your unfamiliar video game controller, the worst that can happen is you might lose a "life" in your game. No big whoop, in the long run; you can always press Reset and try again.

If you screw up a move with unfamiliar controls in your car...people can die. For real. And real life does not have a Reset button.

That's why anyone looking to change the accepted standards for how cars are controlled needs to study the issues involved very, very carefully, and provide hard evidence that their new design will be at least as safe as current ones, preferably more so...and, even then, they should think twice. Funny how the fact that real human lives are at stake can change your approach, huh?

(And don't tell me "well, commercial jet controls have changed, and human lives are at stake there, too." Airline pilots are specially trained on each model of aircraft they fly; even private pilots are generally certified for the type of aircraft they fly. The average jerk on the freeway probably has not undergone any kind of "special training.")

Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org
[ Parent ]

Regulation?! (none / 0) (#103)
by Sethamin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 03:14:44 PM EST

So what you're talking about now is regulation. Now we must have gov't control over car UI?

I'm not denying that it might not be as safe. But I do think it's the driver's responsibility to learn the UI, not the car company's responsibility to make sure you know it. That's like blaming car makers for making manual transmissions when everyone doesn't know how to drive manual. Or Porsche for making RWD cars that are harder to drive than FWD cars. If you don't know how to drive it, don't drive it. By your logic everyone should all make FWD, automatic cars because that's the safest vehicle for everyone involved. But it's not very interesting, is it?

A society should not be judged by its output of junk, but by what it thinks is significant. -Neil Postman
[ Parent ]

Seneibility (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by PigleT on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 06:01:09 AM EST

"I don't quite understand why everyone is so down on this new system. Do we all fear change that much?"

Because while the car has that magic "TOYS!" appeal, you look at the toys for what they're worth and realise that they're going to make you think too much about the car and not enough about the dratted 3-year-old just run out in front - oh shit.

It's a "depth of menu" thing. If your menu has more top-levels, you know exactly what you're tweaking when you push "this" knob on the dash, or stab *that* button over there, or... whereas if you've only got one way in to the system, your braincell has to maintain state about "I'm in the radio section, no, come out of that, no, Classic FM sucks!" - distraction.
~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]
Windows CE (2.33 / 9) (#33)
by gromgull on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 04:18:01 AM EST

Your gearbox as performed an illegal operation and will be shutdown. OK?

If I had my way I'd have all of you shot

oh god (2.00 / 1) (#46)
by eviltwin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 07:20:14 AM EST

thats funny - i mean seriously thats so funny.

youre about 6 hours late on that one - BTW as i pointed out to antother poster you would be surprised as to how much runs on windows - try all Building Management and lift management systems for Honeywell, Koni Otis and most other manufacturers.

The lift you ride in every day is run on windows and it does it completely fine. Jeez i wonder why they don't use open source ?

All generalisations are false, including this one.
[ Parent ]
Embedded BSD (5.00 / 1) (#77)
by lazerus on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:55:17 AM EST

actually, most embedded stuff is either QNX or embedded BSD (some of which IS open source, not all though)

[ Parent ]
sure but (none / 0) (#115)
by eviltwin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 07:35:50 PM EST

I;m not talking embedded and neither are they is suspect (i'm not talking the porgramming in the controllers which tends to be BSD i many i have seen (or a custom OS) but on the controller boxes whcih are univerally windows (the one's i have seen) and running windows98 normally

And i mean it - why no open source soulution? i this an area where OSS is failing and why hasn't someoene come along and changed it?

All generalisations are false, including this one.
[ Parent ]
Windows CE (4.00 / 1) (#65)
by Wolf Keeper on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:04:14 AM EST

I've been programming for Windows CE for about a year and my employer has it running in hundreds of units. I've never, ever seen it crash.

If you look on the Microsoft web site, it's built off of a completely different kernel (core of the operating system) than Windows 95/98/ME or NT/2K/XP


[ Parent ]
strange (5.00 / 1) (#81)
by CodeWright on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:59:43 AM EST

I have a Compaq iPaq 3670, running Windows PocketPC 2002, a WindowsCE based operating system, and it hard crashes on me about twice a week at least....

"Humanity's combination of reckless stupidity and disrespect for the mistakes of others is, I think, what makes us great." --Parent ]
HP Jornada 540 series (none / 0) (#98)
by nstenz on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 01:57:42 PM EST

Locks up solid.

Jornada 690 clamshell PC as well. Myself and a friend.

Actually, the CE kernel functions much like the NT4 kernel, and borrows a lot from it. Saying it's completely different is completely B.S.

[ Parent ]

This sounds like a usability disaster (4.40 / 10) (#38)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 04:45:08 AM EST

I've been reading the classic usability book The Psychology of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. In that he mentions specifically some dashboard controls as an example of good design, in spite of apparent complexity. Having a separate control for each function makes the interface easier to use, since the brain can easily map one function to one control. Having one control do several things is usually very bad for usability. Norman blames untrained designers for this repeated mistake: designers like "smooth", "uncluttered", "minimalist" interfaces for the visual effect, regardless of the fact that they're hard to use.

Also, I notice that you have to look at a display to navigate through this interface. This is a bad idea at the best of times. Normal mentions a nuclear power plant where the engineers had to stick different shaped beer taps on the levers to give them distinctly different feels. Having to look at a screen in a moving car where you ought to be keeping your eye on the road seems like pretty bad idea.

This interface, with one control doing everything looks like an absolute disaster from a usability point of view.

On the other hand, I think it's an important step. I think in the future it will be much more common to have sophisticated force-feedback controls that tell you what you've done by feel. The problem I see with this system is that it's a case of too much, too soon. Controlling absolutely everything in a car is too much for one joystick to handle. I just hope that if this fails it doesn't turn the public permanently against this technology, rather than just over-ambitious applications of this technology.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death

Similar items, Don Norman (4.40 / 5) (#41)
by Vs on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 05:57:11 AM EST

Recently, the respectable comp.risks ran an item about the iDrive. Don Norman, author of "The Design of Everyday Things" and other books on (un)usability, commments on some of its bogosities.

You can read the USA Today article he mentions, too.
Where are the immoderate submissions?

Optimize the current interface. (3.87 / 8) (#43)
by labradore on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 06:04:38 AM EST

The problem with putting all of these functions into one "button" is that the user must do operations that involve at least 2-deep menu systems. With traditional interfaces almost everything is "1-click". Fly-by-wire should not be in any but the most expensive vehicles. It will have few benfits for the driver and many disadvantages, especially maintenance expense.

That said, here are some things that are commongly done poorly in automobile interfaces (in no particular order):

  • Cruise control
  • Radio/CD/Tape unit
  • Integrated lights, wiper, turn signals
  • Dashboard feedback
  • Mirrors, windows and seat adjustments

Cruise control should be 3 distinctly seperate (no flat-rockers) buttons: "on/off", "set" and "coast". These buttons should be on the steering wheel but well out of the way of the horn!

The radio. It should have 5 preset station buttons along the bottom. Hold preset button to set preset station. There should be eject buttons for tape and CD, each located right next to the hole for the tape and the hole for the CD. The tuner should be an infinite turn dial with a digital freq. readout right next to it. The freq. readout must never show the time--time is a seperate readout, preferably with a different color. Pushing the dial should turn off the radio. There should be an up/down rocker for volume and the mute button should be right next to it. It should have its own readout of progressively higher bars. The volume readout should switch to bass/treble/forward/rear/left/right readout when pressing those buttons with a one-second delay before it goes back to volume. Bass and treble should be on a vertical rocker. Forward/rear/right/left should be on a cross-shaped rocker with good tactile feedback for when you press each side. There should be 3 buttons on the back/side of the steering wheel that work the radio. They should be a volume rocker that mutes when you double click it, a "next/last radio preset" rocker button that doubles as a "next/last cd track" button and a button that switches between tape, radio and cd each time it is pressed.

The lights knob should be on the dash board on the left of the steering wheel and should have angles for off, running lights and on. Pushing the knob in should toggle between high-beam and normal.

The turn signal should be on the left of the steering wheel and pulling it out should turn on the hazard lights. There should be nothing else on it.

The wiper controls should be variable from off to really fast in a continuous curve. It can be a knob on the dash behind the right side of the steering wheel or on a steering-column stick. It should have no other function.

The dashboard should be a very bright, high-def, color LCD screen (brightness adjustable by knob). It should have a permanent basic default setup that can be brought back immediately with a single ("panic") button that is only used for that purpose. Feedback available should include: Speed, fuel, RPM, engine temp., oil pressure, total milage, trip milage, time, trip time, parking brake indicator, current gear indicator, status/error code indicator(e.g. Engine warning #37, engine system breakdown #5, A/C error #6, etc.) All codes should be listed in the owner's manual. Short descriptions should be available on the dash if a button is pressed.

The mirrors, doors, windows and seat adjustments. Mirror buttons should be far away from window buttons and farther away from door buttons. There should be one four-way rocker for the mirrors and a switch to select which one to adjust right next to the rocker. There should be four window rocker buttons that are "double-click rockers". If pushed up or down to the point that they click twice the window should go all the way up or down. The back window lock-out and the back door lock-out buttons should be covered and should be press-and-stay rockers or press-and-stay pop-up/downs. The door lock/unlock should be a sliding switch should be a different size and shape than all other buttons on the arm rest. Seat adjustment buttons should be on the right hand side for the driver and the left hand side for the passenger. Two buttons only: seat-back tilt and a 4-way rocker for forward/back/up/down.

Seperate buttons for almost all functions are essential. Tactile and visual feedback are essential. Spacing and the shape of the buttons and readout is very important. If these features are implimented the interface becomes dead-simple and very powerful, instead of dead-DEAD-complicated and very powerful in the one-button approach.

UI is not the place for standards (4.33 / 3) (#52)
by pkesel on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 09:14:21 AM EST

Your rant points out very nicely how subjective interface design is.

I don't like rockers for radio volume. They don't allow you to make quick, large volume changes. You have to hold the button.

And I don't need any display of volume level. You can hear it just fine.

And the clock on the radio is fine. I know what station I'm listening to because I recognize it, or I've just selected it. Why should I waste dashboard space on yet another display?

And why do tone controls need a separate control? I never use them. Why should I care if it's awkward to adjust if I never do it? And why a rocker? I like dial controls. Dials have a context, unless they're 'infinite turn' type. You know what degree of performance by the position of the knob.

And don't you generally know what time it is anyway? Seems to me that you're in the car until you get from here to there. What does the time matter until you get out?

I also don't like bright colorful dashboard displays. I like it to be dim and low contrast so that it doesn't interfere with my view of the road.

In the big scheme of things, not much of that matters though. The point is that design of any control system is subjective, and it's not the place for standards. As long as there is room for diversity in the market place and there is some measure of safety to what's done, people will find and use what agrees with them.

[ Parent ]
Actually, UI *is* the place for standards (4.00 / 1) (#56)
by porkchop_d_clown on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 09:58:54 AM EST

I realize that this is an unpopular idea (especially with Linux users, especially in this day of skinnable apps) but any UI expert will tell you that for productivity and efficiency, consistency is far more important than personal preference.

That, more than any accusations of "GUI Nazism" is why Apple dislikes letting people customize their UI.

Uhhh.... Where did I drop that clue?
I know I had one just a minute ago!

[ Parent ]
Whose productivity? (none / 0) (#68)
by pkesel on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:28:04 AM EST

I'd surmise that productivity and efficiency are affected by UI dissimilarity only when it is a variety of users who are approaching the UI. If I have to drive your car I'm not going to be as comfortable, and perhaps not as efficient or productive if you want to measure that. But when I buy a new car I spend a week or so adjusting and growing accustomed to the vehicle. After that adjustment period though it's unlikely that there is any difference in UI efficiency or productivity between a Honda or a Lexus or the new BMW 7.

Using your analogy of the computer UI, aren't you more efficient and productive when you personalize your Windows desktop? I improve mine by setting all folder displays to show the details rather than the icon view. I change the start menu contents to put everything I use regularly in the topmost display rather than in submenus. I move the taskbar to the left edge of the screen because that's the area of the screen that I use least.

There may be some truly silly UI decisions that can have a negative effect. Radio controls in the glove box or light control under the seat would be truly inefficient. But whether it's a rocker or a dial control on the radio, and whether it's above or to the side of the display are probably immaterial in the big scheme of things. Once the adjustment is made they are all about equal.

[ Parent ]
car != desktop (none / 0) (#78)
by Cro Magnon on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:56:07 AM EST

On my desktop, I WANT to customize my UI. I want as much freedom to go wild as I can handle, and more. But, in my car, safety is #1. If my "UI" is the same as it was 20 years ago, great! Maybe there's a better way, but I sure don't want to be shooting down the highway at 70MPH in someone's UI experiment. One gripe I have is whenever my car's in the shop and I'm driving a rental, there's always annoying differences in the look-and-feel. But at least the important stuff is standard and I won't crash the car because I can't figure something out.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
Minor UI Features, Maybe (4.50 / 4) (#63)
by czolgosz on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 10:37:39 AM EST

I think you've got a point about standardization not being necessary, but it's not applicable to the critical interfaces.

If you look at the history of automotive design, some key UI features were not originally standardized. These include the placement and function of the pedals (many cars had brake and accelerator swapped, relative to the modern standard, and the brake was sometimes a lever), and how steering works (a tiller was once a popular choice). These features are safety-critical, and by the 1920s, most manufacturers did them the same way. There was less pressure to standardize the less critical features such as lights, the heater or the radio (some of which weren't widely used in the 20's anyway).

The problem with BMW's approach is that it ignores principles that are widely used (and proven) in cockpit design for less critical controls and indicators:

  • Visual feedback to a display on the dash diverts the driver's attention from driving. For non-safety-critical controls, the only (worst case, the primary) feedback should be tactile. If you don't need to see it to drive the car, you shouldn't see it.

  • It should be possible to recognize each control by touch. They should also be visually distinct (I'm sure this drives interior designers crazy, since they'd like a "unified look and feel"). This is the reason that aircraft cockpits have a variety of different switches and actuators, in different colors and with different shapes, in functional groups. If you look in a cockpit, you don't see a single controller for everything. There's a reason for that. There's been a huge amount of analysis and testing on what makes pilots least likely to crash, and much of it is applicable to cars too. Obviously, the fewer controllers the better, but the way to achieve that is by getting rid of non-essential functions, not "overloading" the controllers you need.

  • Positional controls (knobs, indicator dials, sliders) give more immediate feedback than digital controls.

  • Angular controls (dials rather than ribbon indicators) are easier to read when the data changes frequently.

  • Warnings, alerts and status indicators should only be shown if they require immediate response. So "You've got mail!" is not desirable while driving. Thank God for that.

    Multifunction controllers are OK for games, but in a car, you want the non-critical control interface to be shallow and diverse, not hierarchical and concentrated in a single controller. If it requires any thought whatsoever, you're in the same position as watching TV or using a cellphone while driving. Your attention is diverted from the important task. This can get you and others killed.
    Why should I let the toad work squat on my life? --Larkin
    [ Parent ]
  • Agreed . . . (4.00 / 1) (#72)
    by pkesel on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:36:37 AM EST

    Safety and general operability must be maintained. I also agree with your thoughts on angular and positional controls, and the point about innocuous warnings and alerts being unobtrusive.

    But the idea of having controls recognizable by touch may be a bit much. There are so many controls that it would be difficult to make that many controls with meaningful differentiation.

    Perhaps there might be classes of controls. Analog degree of function controls (Like volume or temperature) might have a raised line of radius on the face. Radial selectors (like air duct routing selectors) might have a raised indicator at the selected position of the knob edge. Single-function switches might be simple toggles.

    [ Parent ]
    The thing about touch. (none / 0) (#163)
    by DavidTC on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 03:56:46 PM EST

    The reason you want to be able to recognize them by touch isn't because you don't know how they work, it's because you don't know which control they are.

    If, for example, bass, treble, volumn, front/back, and left/right were all identical sliders next to each other, it would be very difficult to figure out. You'd have to memorize the order and count to do it without looking.

    -David T. C.
    Yes, my email address is real.
    [ Parent ]

    It's not that subjective (none / 0) (#146)
    by cpt kangarooski on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 04:56:20 PM EST

    There are pretty well defined methods of determining what makes for a good UI and what doesn't. You find out by setting goals, and testing while closely observing what happens with different UIs, refining the ideas until you get something that's demonstrably good.

    The problem really is that most people -- particularly in the computer world -- just throw something together that either a) looks good or b) suits their own tastes as far as they are aware of them. (but not necessarily optimally -- if you know you have a headache you take asprin; if you didn't realize you actually had a brain tumor, you'd never know to take the bear)

    All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
    [ Parent ]

    Cruise UI (none / 0) (#69)
    by bored on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:28:55 AM EST

    Cruise control should be 3 distinctly seperate (no flat-rockers) buttons: "on/off", "set" and "coast". These buttons should be on the steering wheel but well out of the way of the horn!

    I don't think i like that either, my cruise control is on a steering wheel apendage. The end has a little button, push it in to turn the cruise on, which lights a light on the console. Push it up to set/accelerate down to set/coast, pull in to resume after coasting. Its not labeled that way and its a pain to use, I've read the instructions which say things like push up to accelate and set the cruise, down to coast, pull in to resume. Which doesn't appear to be the way it behaves, combine that with what i'm going to call the 'cruise lag' and it drives me nuts. I end up using it like a binary on/off. Find my speed, turn it on, set the cruise, hold the 'accelerate' for a moment because the set point appears to be about 5 mph below the current speed. Turn it off to decelerate, or just hit the accelerator to go faster. The resume function doesn't appear to work. In this respect a better UI would have been a 'speed lock' which simply when turned on holds the vehicle at the current speed, turn it off to change speed. Or maybe a second speed dislay which shows the locked 'cruise' speed and a little thumb wheel to roll the speed up or down.

    [ Parent ]

    Car UI (none / 0) (#109)
    by epepke on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 05:09:11 PM EST

    Good. I like UI discussions.

    Cruise control should be 3 distinctly seperate (no flat-rockers) buttons: "on/off", "set" and "coast". These buttons should be on the steering wheel but well out of the way of the horn!

    My 96 neon has a good UI. There are actually five buttons, both on the steering wheel and easily reachable by thumbs. On the left are the master on/off buttons. On the right are three buttons. The top one is accel, the bottom is decel. In the middle is a cancel button which is a ridge. In practice, I never hit the cancel button by accident but use it all the time by feel.

    There should be an up/down rocker for volume and the mute button should be right next to it.

    The volume and tuning should be knobs, and they should be different sizes, so that you can tell them apart by feel. Save rockers for uses that are naturally digital, such as next/prev track.

    There should be four window rocker buttons that are "double-click rockers". If pushed up or down to the point that they click twice the window should go all the way up or down.

    Why double-click? A single haptic click should be sufficient. Also, I prefer the up-down buttons. They're like little horizontal ridges pointing forward; you can push down on the top or hook your finger over and pull up. (Actually, I prefer windows with cranks. I live in Florida, which has a lot of water and a lot of bridges.

    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

    [ Parent ]
    Whine whine whine (4.00 / 6) (#49)
    by magus123x on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 08:16:01 AM EST

    Is it just me or is there a LOT of whining regarding this story?

    First is the "car is too big" blah blah blah. 7s, S's, and A8s arent like the large, RWD American counterparts. When BMW has their "Ultimate Drive" to raise money to donate to breast cancer research, go to your dealer and try a 7. It won't cost you a dime. You'll quickly realize that the car handles superbly and is as quick as the average sports coupe, yet comfortably seats five 6-foot execs.

    Second, is "why so many features"? You're not going to use active cooling, massage seats, etc on a 5 minute trip to the grocery store. These vehicles are intended primarly for somewhat older folks (40+ at the least, typically) who want to be pampered on long drives and commutes, as well as the clients or guests they entertain. These are executive saloons.

    Third, iDrive doesn't crash. Virtually NOTHING gets by BMWs or Mercedes-Benz's QC. BMW has a huge reputation to uphold and they'd never let something like that happen and end up losing ground to Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Audi.

    Fourth, the car is selling in the US at the very least. Hit up Forbes.com and look at the 7-series numbers. They are up 25%. If you don't like the car, don't buy it. I'm sure most of you can't front the $70,000 for a stripped down one (I know I can't).

    Last, change is necessary. Look at this keyboard I type on, I'm sure it's bad for my hands, and something could be invented that's faster. We'll be using keyboards forever until a new interface comes about that everyone accepts. At least BMW is trying to consolidate the good deal of controls that are present in today's European executive saloons, and I wouldn't be surprised in Mercedes-Benz or Audi made a move next. The same goes for design. Outside right now there's a 740i Sport and a 740iL. They have curb presence, but like the 5-series, it's not as slippery and smooth as the recent 3's. The new upcoming E-Class looks much nicer than the current 5, but the new 5's (and 6's) look wonderful. Designs will always change, so get used to it.

    And for all those saying they can do a better job, go land a job at BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Bentley, or Rolls Royce, and we'll see what you come up with.

    Doesn't crash, eh? (none / 0) (#70)
    by Robert Minichino on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:34:08 AM EST

    Once you get used to it it's a decent interface, but I have seen it reset itself (distracting at worst) while riding in a friend's new 745. The iDrive system itself isn't in control of anything safety-critical. I think the hideousness of the car is a more important issue than the iDrive, though ;)

    [ Parent ]
    However (none / 0) (#112)
    by eviltwin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 06:10:12 PM EST

    As you don't know how the system functions you have no idea why it would reset and it might also be a fauly unit.

    As for looks you know there are a lot of people all over the world who consider that americans, with the SUV obsession and cars like the Suburban, to be no judge on automotive design in any way.

    Sorry but i personally think the US companies make some of the ugliest cars on the worlds roads

    All generalisations are false, including this one.
    [ Parent ]
    iThis, iThat (4.33 / 6) (#55)
    by Silent Chris on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 09:57:20 AM EST

    Is anyone else getting sick of the iNamingSchemes?

    iMac sort of made sense. It's a Mac, built primarily for the Internet (and it can't do much else ;) ). iPaq was a stretch (the first Compaq handhelds had no internet connectivity whatsoever). All of the new Apple stuff? iPod? iPhoto? Huh?

    Along with colored plastic, these things seem to be the remnants of designers still working on Macintoshes - and thinking everything fundamental to design requires a Macintosh look. Have you seen the Best Buy newspaper ads, where they have Windows 98 running (what looks like) the Macintosh version of IE?

    And now, the iDrive. It has nothing to do with the internet. Some will argue the "i" means "intelligent". How is this any more intelligent than normal driving? Practical, perhaps. New. But intelligent? And certainly not internet.

    Besides (none / 0) (#158)
    by irksome on Thu Apr 18, 2002 at 11:00:58 PM EST

    I had thought there was already an I-Drive out there. Although, if you go to idrive.com, you now get redirected to anuvio.com, so maybe not.

    I think I am, therefore I'm not.
    [ Parent ]
    No MP3 Player? (4.75 / 4) (#61)
    by DrEvil on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 10:19:45 AM EST

    BMW Mobile Internet - Internet, email, traffic updates and live news data delivered via wireless (Blue tooth appears to be the chosen protocol) to the car

    Why bother putting an Internet connection in a car if you aren't going to use it for the stereo? If you can't go without e-mail for the time that you are driving, you have other problems. But MP3s (or that type of media) delivered directly to your car on demand would be a great feature, and actually useful. No more having to change CDs while driving. Radio stations from anywhere in the world could be streamed to your car. There are plenty of uses for this.

    It seems to me that we have all this wonderful technology, but the powers that be that decide what to do with it go about it in a horribly wrong way. Another good example of this is digital cell phones. They could be used for many of things, but they seem to only want to push them for use with information. I once wrote software that allowed you to use your cell phone as a remote control for Winamp. To me this has greater purpose than being able to check up on your latest stock quotes but no one seems to see the big picture. Web access in a car is almost useless (except for traffic reports, weather, etc. those could be deemed useful) but that doesn't mean the Internet doesn't have it's place in a car!

    can you live in it? (3.00 / 2) (#66)
    by AgentGray on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:10:18 AM EST

    How well the technology will work in practice remains to be seen but one question that needs to be asked is what impact will all of these toys have on the way a driver functions?

    The impact is that the driver will be dead broke. No money for gas. Can the Average Joe afford a Beamer 7-series?

    It's not and never will be aimed at average joe (none / 0) (#75)
    by strlen on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:48:53 AM EST

    With its quite huge price tag, and its styling, it's aimed for the corporate executive. For the average joe, BMW has the 3-series and the upcoming 1-series, which while are still full of electronics (memory seats, optional step-tronic instead of manual, traction control which can be turned on and off, limited slip rear differential) aren't as packed as the 7.

    [T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
    [ Parent ]
    by the way (none / 0) (#89)
    by christoph s on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:37:27 PM EST

    the 7 series aren't selling well at all in europe and most non american markets. mostly for design reasons, though

    [ Parent ]
    yeah (none / 0) (#91)
    by strlen on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:49:14 PM EST

    but i guess some american consumers to enjoy its styling, which i think is ugly, and doesn't follow the more conservative styling schemes i associated with that market segment (look at S-klasses, Audi A8, and previous 7-series). There's also talk that the 7's designers (Chris Bangle) will lay his hands on the 5-series, which will take it off my list of "out-of-college put-me-in-debt over powered Euro sports sedans".

    [T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
    [ Parent ]
    yes it is.. or rather (none / 0) (#102)
    by shrubbery on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 02:49:30 PM EST

    Its aimed at the Joe with a title of CEO, CFO, or Esquire. But these people are conservative folks; there not inclined to sit there and try to figure out some new gizmo on a car. Its novel yes.. but the novelty would seem to me to wear out pretty fast. I'd rather think that these type of folks want something big, decently fun to drive, and show-off-ish.

    [ Parent ]
    I've tried the iDrive before (5.00 / 3) (#80)
    by shrubbery on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 11:59:33 AM EST

    BMW is pushing this thing a lot and being a car person I was at the New York Auto Show just 2 weeks ago. They had kiosks where you could stand and try out the system.

    How was it? So-so. A little confusing at first but it gets the job done. I feel that the interfaces in cars today *DO* need a change. They do need less buttons in the cars. But, I really don't like the idea of having to drill down so many menus to get things done however. Like another poster said however, its about continuality of design. People aren't used to this thing. Most journalists are slamming this thing because they drive god knows how many cars a day and are fairly used to the older system. They do have a good reason though, I don't see the iDrive as that user friendly either when it comes to instantly have access to a certain control.

    I'd rather see a compromise where you do get dedicated buttons for some things that you access alot.. say the windows... or the fan control... and menu's for things that you don't.. like the BASS on your radio or having separate "programs" for your climate control as well As for the other tech in your article, having the stick up on the steering column reminds me of older American cars. No big deal, just that I'm used to having it on the transmission tunnel hump nowadays. Mercedes has an even more advanced key system that senses when your next to the door and unlocks it for you. Mercedes has already had the "active cruise control" in some of their other models before BMW did.. Audi has a decent CVT transmission for their 3.0 and below engines.

    What about configuration? (none / 0) (#131)
    by fr2ty on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 07:59:35 AM EST

    Mercedes has an even more advanced key system that senses when your next to the door and unlocks it for you.

    I hope it remains possible to keep the doors locked while you are sitting in your car...

    How configurable are those features? I must think of this joke about Airlines and operating systems. I hope modern cars won't be like the Macintosh in that wonderful joke.
    Please note that are neither capitals nor numbers in my mail adress.
    [ Parent ]
    OEMs have officially lost the plot. (none / 0) (#135)
    by SPYvSPY on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 10:15:49 AM EST

    I have the same problem with the new BMW iDrive that I have with my Clarion head unit and with my JVC home theater receiver -- all of the features are buried in obscure menu trees that will *never* be inuitive to me.

    In order to change the bass settings on either the JVC or the Clarion, I need to navigate through at least five button presses. With the JVC, it's annoying because you have to use on-screen menus through your tv to configure it. With the Clarion, it's dangerous because I'm driving while I navigate the fiddly little menus.

    I will have to replace the $700 Clarion head unit soon because of its retarded UI. Just yesterday, I replaced the JVC receiver with an NAD that has a better feature set, sounds better, has simpler navigation, and good old bass/treble control knobs on the faceplate. As for the BMW iDrive -- I'll stick to my Honda S2000 for the time being.

    By replying to this or any other comment in this thread, you assign an equal share of all worldwide copyright in such reply to each of the other readers of this site.
    [ Parent ]

    Fiddly button interfaces (none / 0) (#149)
    by daviddennis on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 07:23:08 PM EST

    About a year and a half ago, I bought a Nikon Coolpix 990 camera. It took nice pictures, but I never warmed to it thanks to its awkward menu/button interface. A lot of functions could only be executed by clumsily pressing a button and rotating a knob at the same time. By the time I gave it away to a friend, I'd taken about 1,100 pictures in a year of ownership.

    So I got a Canon EOS D30 digital SLR. It's bigger and heavier and clumsier than the Coolpix, and it cost about triple the price. I can't fit it in my pocket. But I have natural controls that are a joy to use; I can do exposure compensation and change ASA without looking in a manual. It has a 124 page manual which I read once; since the functions were intuitive, after I read it I was able to use the camera without referring to it anymore.

    The result was that I took over 1,000 pictures in a month - in other words, I took about as many in a month as I did with the Coolpix in a year. I've owned it for about three and a half months and have taken over 2,500 pictures. Obviously the user interface suits me a great deal better than the Coolpix.

    That's how much design matters. I consider my camera well worth the $3,400 I paid for it, because it was well designed and that makes it a joy to take pictures.

    It's hard to separate the iDrive from the fact that it's Windows CE based. Enemies of Windows, such as myself, are going to consider that the most important thing, and dismiss it out of hand.

    But I read reviews of the BMW's iDrive system in CAR Magazine (UK), which is the most honest automotive magazine I know. (Automobile magazine is closest; it has many articles by the same writers). The CAR review was frankly skeptical. They gave it a fair hearing, admitted there were nice things about it, but you could tell that in the end they missed their old knobs and dials.

    I presently own a Mercedes-Benz 420SEL, which is been a direct competitor to the 7-series, except that I have the 1990 model. I test-drove the S500 and really loved the ride and handling, but their newer computerized control systems were confusing. I think iDrive will be even worse since there are no corresponding buttons you can push if you don't like it.

    According to the Car article, the iDrive system is planned to be in all their cars, not just the 7-series, as the cars are replaced with new models. So don't think of this as something just for the buyers of $70,000 cars.

    Besides, I paid $12,000 for my BenzL, so eventually you may be able to afford one of the BMWs even if you're not a fat cat.

    amazing.com has amazing things.
    [ Parent ]
    When it starts going wrong.... (4.25 / 4) (#82)
    by jet_silver on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:02:33 PM EST

    The argument that this is a cool system when it's new, is almost beside the point. What's going to be hilarious is when these things are a few years old, and they don't...quite... work right any more.

    Getting involved with version 1.0 of this thing is going to be terminally stupid. Everything in the car is going to be controlled by the same silly switch that is in just the right place to be bathed in coffee. Imagine how many things can -simultaneously- be operating (seat controls, wipers, main display) when things start to get in trouble. Suddenly you find your seat moving inexorably toward the steering wheel, for example, while the radio antenna goes UP and DOWN and the mirrors wag like Dumbo's ears.

    I can hardly wait to see a retired orthodontist trying to make sense of this thing.
    "What they really fear is machine-gunning politicians becoming a popular sport, like skate-boarding." -Nicolas Freeling

    SO WHAT (2.50 / 4) (#85)
    by eckhart on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:22:24 PM EST

    This is just a itsy bitsy gimmick . Did you know that BMW has a fully functional hydrogen car, they have done so for some years now. It runs on water and sunlight... now that would be evolution, clean powerfull cars and nothing but water coming out in the end http://www.bmwworld.com/models/750hl.htm

    SO WHAT 2 (none / 0) (#95)
    by christoph s on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 01:16:07 PM EST

    It runs on water and sunlight
    it COULD run on water and sunlight, but most hydrogen nowadays is produced with the help of oil, coal and the like.
    by the way, daimlerchrysler and ford were into hydrogen long before bmw. (Mercedes-Benz neCar, for example)

    [ Parent ]
    Isn't that the point of the force-feedback? (4.33 / 3) (#88)
    by mhaseltine on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 12:35:51 PM EST

    Perhaps I misread the article, but it seems to me that the whole point of the haptic feedback was to make it so you didn't have to look at the screen/control all the time. You'd have to look at what you were doing while you were learning the system, sure, but any car is like that. We're all used to changing the climate control settings by turning a knob with distinct settings, and knowing that "two clicks over from vent is a/c" or whatever. Do you think that with regular use the driver would drill down through menus by going "up, up, right" without looking? And like any interface system - some judgement would be called for - if you were merging on to the highway, that'd be the wrong time to dial up some news.

    Judgement (none / 0) (#100)
    by dachshund on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 02:08:39 PM EST

    And like any interface system - some judgement would be called for - if you were merging on to the highway, that'd be the wrong time to dial up some news.

    On the other hand, if you'd accidentally gotten the ventilation system blasting hot air into your face, you might have to mess with the system to shut it off while merging onto the highway-- at least, if you wore contact lenses.

    [ Parent ]

    Um... (4.20 / 5) (#94)
    by trhurler on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 01:13:32 PM EST

    First off, you're wrong. Car interface has changed A LOT over the years. Sometimes refinements(rack and pinion steering, power steering, variable assist, variable steering gear, etc,) and sometimes truly radical changes(battery driven electrical ignition, various gearboxes ranging from the old crashbox all the way out to the CVTs some cars use today,) but changes nevertheless. A modern car can be so simple that a five year old could drive it on a closed course quite safely with some instruction; a Model A required considerably more skill in a variety of tasks, not least of which was just starting the engine without taking your own arm off in the process.

    Second, iDrive is merely an evolutionary improvement of a technology that's been around for a few years. It is not the first computer-based car interface system, even if it may be the first mature one in a production automobile. There have been hotrod guys at shows for some time now with cars devoid of buttons and knobs and yet having every stupid feature imaginable, and while I'm not certain, I think Cadillac has touchscreen controls for certain things either in production or on the way, among others. (BMW lifted the idea for adjustable suspension in street cars straight off the hotrod guys, I'm pretty sure.)

    Third, worrying about iDrive causing accidents is stupid, just as worrying about phones is stupid. Competent, careful drivers won't have problems, and for other drivers, the problem is that they're incompetent and/or careless, and should not be allowed to drive at all. It is that simple. It really is. The whole "blame the car for your stupidity" thing is popular these days, as is blaming everything from alcohol to passengers to that billboard of a girl in a bikini. If you can't concentrate on the task at hand, get the fuck off the road, and if you can, then I'm not worried about the phone you use or the interface to your automobile.

    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    Learning curves are standard (4.50 / 4) (#104)
    by krek on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 03:22:40 PM EST

    I remember a period of about three weeks, two hours a day, when I was learning to drive a regular old car, where I was completely freaked out. How in gods name do you want me to watch the road in front of me, the road behind me, the various blind spots, my speed, my gas levels, three mirrors, a tachometer, all other vehicles within sight from any direction, all the while, expected to carry on a conversation with my father. "Jesus H. Christ, how in gods name am I expected to keep track of all this shit?", my father could do it and he did not seem to understand my problem (he is like that). Nine years later, I can drive pretty well in my opinion, and have no problem keeping track of all the nuances of driving.

    Now had real life driving been a little more like Nintendo, I would have been on the Grand Prix circuit by now. I expect that we will adapt, all of us useless old adults will be a little slower at getting up to speed (ha) and much more resistant, than our childeren will be, but it will be alright, it is not the end of the world.

    Ask anyone younger than 20 how you changed TV channels before we invented the remote. Chances are you will get mostly blank looks of horror, some will figure that we only had one channel at the time, but the real point is, my mom still cannot use the remote that my parents have, hell she could barely use the first, six button remote we ever had; six buttons and no menus and she still 'could' (read 'would') not figure out how it worked.

    Learning curves are dangerous (5.00 / 1) (#150)
    by sgp on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 07:35:20 PM EST

    I can cope with learning a new UI on my PC, my stereo, or my TV.

    Of course, if I'd learned to drive in a BMW 7-series (and lets face it, who doesn't:) then the iDrive system would be intuitive to me. But if I'd changed my ABS settings (for fsck's sake!) because my wife is pregnant (she is, as it happens) and she got sick of my heavy-footed braking, how long would it take me to explain to the car, "no, look, really, I actually want you to f*cking stop now, ignore the softly-softly-approach I told you, just fecking stop or we're going to die." ?

    The programmable-ABS stuff really scares me, I must admit, even more than a poster here who mentioned reading email whilst driving.
    How on earth are you supposed to test your ABS settings? Even if you can afford a BMW 7-series, your driveway might still not be long enough to test it at 90mph.

    I'm 29 and hate 76-year-old drivers who do 20 in a 30 zone, 40 in a 50 zone, and 50 in a 60 zone. They are a liability. They learned to drive when there were a fraction of the number of road-users than there are now. Maybe in 50 years' time a 29-year-old will say "I hate these 79-year-olds who still don't understand their iDrive; they learned to drive with pedals and knobs but that's no excuse". The difference is, I'm not going to kill anybody by driving a "standard" car. I've only driven an automatic once, and getting started was a learning-curve (what do I do with my left foot?!) but I was safe enough to be allowed on the road... I'm an experienced driver with about 150,000 miles behind me, but I would not feel safe driving one of these things.

    There are 10 types of people in the world:
    Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

    [ Parent ]

    Learn to fly! (none / 0) (#156)
    by bkeeler on Thu Apr 18, 2002 at 01:45:15 PM EST

    You think that's bad? Try learning to fly. You're maintaining heading and altitude, while navigating in three dimentions, while maintaining situational awareness (just how close am I to that mountain anyway?), while looking out the window spotting other aircraft, while talking to controllers in a language that is supposedly English but doesn't seem like it at first.

    Once you've done all that, get your instrument rating. Now you're doing all of the above using only instruments; scanning at least a dozen instruments, any of which can fail in different ways, and the radio workload seems to jump an order of magnitude.

    I've done it, and friends let me tell you, it's not easy at first, but it's amazing just how many things the human mind can juggle with a little practice.

    ...until the word "Maudling" is almost completely obscured.
    [ Parent ]

    more points of expensive failure? (4.66 / 3) (#110)
    by gps on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 05:54:48 PM EST

    just what we need, more expensive points of failure by integrating required car components with a complex computerized (running windows!) electrical system.

    WinCE - the expression on people's faces when their WinCE powered device blue screens again.

    You know (5.00 / 2) (#111)
    by eviltwin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 06:04:02 PM EST

    In years of supporting WInCe devices i've never seen one blue screen Not once. In fact come to thik og it havent seena blue screen at all in over a year - and the last one was a Win2k box with a faulty mobo

    This attitude to MS products is getting really boring fast - and thats from someone who writes and contributes tech content to Linux sites.

    All generalisations are false, including this one.
    [ Parent ]
    sanity (5.00 / 1) (#116)
    by gps on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 08:06:11 PM EST

    the jabs are for sanity after years of past windows problems still needing venting, not truth. i agree, blue screens are pretty much a DOS-based windows thing (or as you mentioned, when hardware goes bad).

    The main reason for my comment was the note on adding complexity not necessarily being good. A friend of a coworker has a mercedes that needs to be "cold booted" (turn it off, take the key out, and restart it) in some situations. that's unacceptable.

    but if everyone cared about reliability in their cars, we'd all be driving honda civics. anyone with enough money to waste on a 7 series beamer in the US could care less.

    [ Parent ]
    love that (5.00 / 1) (#118)
    by eviltwin on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 08:27:40 PM EST

    actually i was discussing this with a friend yestrerday - and it makes you wonder, what does happen if it needs to reboot - say in the middle of a corner ?? (im joiking)

    but i think the biggest laugh would be a new BMW with an Intel Inside sticker on it and designed for Windows Xp badge - then we KNOW things have gone too far

    All generalisations are false, including this one.
    [ Parent ]
    This has got to be the biggest text ad I've ever s (4.33 / 3) (#117)
    by ip4noman on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 08:15:21 PM EST


    Breaking Blue / Cognitive Liberty Airwaves
    Electronics is good, but..... (none / 0) (#120)
    by jonny 290 on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 09:27:00 PM EST

    I refuse to drive a car that does not have a mechanical handbrake system. I even refuse to park downhill from one. :)
    -- brojames@ductape.net ----here to flip the script and channel your aggression inside----
    Holy Mechanical, Batman! (none / 0) (#125)
    by phliar on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 12:44:27 AM EST

    I refuse to drive a car that does not have a mechanical handbrake system. I even refuse to park downhill from one.
    Mechanical handbrakes use a cable that goes from the lever to the wheels. Do cables ever break?

    Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
    [ Parent ]

    Sure (none / 0) (#140)
    by davidduncanscott on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 02:30:09 PM EST

    I've had it happen, in fact. However, it happened as I engaged the handbrake, when the cable was first put under tension, so I was immediately aware of the problem and could deal with it.

    Some things should be simple. Emergency brakes are among them. They don't need to be anti-lock, they don't need to switch on lights, they don't need to interact with the transmission, sound warning klaxons, or adjust to my height and weight -- they just need to work when all else is FUBAR. Something like this makes want to keep an anchor and a length of chain on board, or never take it out of first.

    [ Parent ]

    Yes, but... (none / 0) (#141)
    by phliar on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 03:22:28 PM EST

    (How's that subject line for being completely devoid of information?)

    About the hand-brake cable breaking:

    I've had it happen, in fact.... Some things should be simple. Emergency brakes are among them.
    I don't disagree -- in fact I agree most vehemently that some things are simple and need to stay that way for very good reasons. My objection is just that there is no intrinsic reason to distrust electronic linkages, because mechanical links break too. A sensible designer will use prudence and pick the right solution. (Me, I think power windows are stupid, because I can't roll up the windows without putting the key in the ignition.)

    Now if you come back with a response saying "Yes, but how often do we get sensibly and prudently designed devices from companies?" I'll just have to agree with that too.

    Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
    [ Parent ]

    O (none / 0) (#142)
    by davidduncanscott on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 03:43:37 PM EST

    (Even less informative subject line :>)

    One of my favourite cars is the VW Beetle. I suppose some of my thinking comes from that little beast, in which electricity was clearly viewed as a necessary evil and copper as valuable as gold. The best example was the windshield washer, which had no pump, but instead connected to the spare tire with a pressure-limited valve (so that it wouldn't flatten the spare) and used over-pressure (the owner was instructed to overfill the spare) to force the blue stuff onto the windshield. It was weird and wonderful and typical of the car, and it worked...well, yeah, it was just OK, not great, but it did work.

    [ Parent ]

    That would really suck here (none / 0) (#148)
    by fluffy grue on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 06:06:28 PM EST

    It's so dusty that I have to use wiper fluid every time I start my car. I'd have to both constantly refill the wiper fluid and inflate the spare!
    "...but who knows, perhaps [stories about] technology and hardware will come to be [unpopular]." -- rusty the p
    Parent ]
    Not a problem (5.00 / 1) (#152)
    by davidduncanscott on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 09:39:05 PM EST

    One of the "features" of the old Beetles was the safety glass, which gradually becomes translucent (rather than transparent). Pretty soon dust isn't really an issue -- one is driving by Braille anyway ("slow down when you hear screaming", that's my motto!)

    [ Parent ]
    I wouldn't buy it (5.00 / 2) (#122)
    by rednecktek on Tue Apr 16, 2002 at 10:33:22 PM EST

    Where they put this thing would make it dangerous to have sex while driving.

    Just remember, if the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off.
    Windows CE? (3.00 / 2) (#124)
    by KiTaSuMbA on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 12:40:40 AM EST

    I can immagine that fatal exception error BSOD just when you pass a railroad crossing.
    Now that gives the BSOD acronym another perspective!
    There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
    hmm (5.00 / 1) (#127)
    by luethke on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 02:45:09 AM EST

    I see several big problems I havn't seen mentioned yet. First fly by wire. F16's were refered to as "lawn darts" for a while becuase after extensive flights the wires chaffed and shorted rendering the vehicle a flaming fireball on the ground. While this phase was fixed because it was rubbing badly in a single place if the techs and pilots were not obsessive about inspecting thier planes it would happen frequently. I can see someone being to busy for all thier scheduled maintennance and loosing controll.

    whic brings up the next part - error controll. I doubt these things really get a BSOD, too much liability to let that pass. But as these systems age, wires get corroded, sensors get corroded, etc the fly-by wire stuff will begin to fail. Of course if they get erroneous info they will not follow but if you are getting random info imagine going down the interstate and corrosion makes it sense your turning sharp right, but not so sharp the system reports an error. Again to use airplanes as an example this is avoided by obsessive maintenance.

    ok, the push button brake, yea your kid throws a ball while you are driving (small one) and it hits the botton, uh oh. You bump it accidentally, uh oh. Even if you do things like it requires two pushes someone is reaching around and accidentally hits it. Features like that are mechanical not only because they need to work in case of total system failure but also so they dont malfunction during a good system also.

    and lastly, but not in anyway the least, the guy at home doing something with the car. I don't mean trying to repair it (though you know people will be hacking this - a whole other problem in a life critical system) but the guy adding a quart of oil, checking fluids and other things. I'm leary of too much fragile computer equipment in charg of my life, I know too much about how easy it is to accidentaly screw systems up.

    Without continuous and extensive maintenance as aircraft get, these sytems will degrade QUICKLY. Yea, the current cars use computers for a lot of things but you talking small embedded systems. Things such as integrated everything and fly-by-wire systems not only have much more complex software systems but also sensitive hardware - it just seems like a disaster to put such systems in an environment where they are typically treated rough with inadequate maintenance and expecting a useable life of decades.

    Fly-by-Wire? Not exactly... (none / 0) (#143)
    by RadiantMatrix on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 03:58:00 PM EST

    While the iDrive system sounds a lot like a fly-by-wire system, it isn't exactly. BMW has always been failover-concious.

    Most likely the iDrive is interfaced to several embedded systems with a reliablity in excess of 0.9999 -- and these systems are likely only assistive anyway. In other words, if iDrive pukes, you may be inconvenienced, but I highly doubt you'd be unable to control your car.

    As regards the handbrake button, it's unlikely that the simple circuitry required will fail easily, and it's very likely that the handbrake will not function past a certain speed.

    In short, iDrive isn't doing everything for you, like a fly-by-wire, it's assisting normal operation.

    [ Parent ]

    clarification (4.00 / 1) (#151)
    by luethke on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 08:17:12 PM EST

    sorry, I should have been more specific. I know the iDrive is not fly-by-wire, it was mentioned somewhere about that being the ultimate goal in projects.

    [ Parent ]
    Windows CE? (3.50 / 2) (#139)
    by SmileyBen on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 01:42:18 PM EST

    ...brings new meaning to the term 'Car Crash' ;-)

    Sounds pretty bad (5.00 / 1) (#154)
    by Rainy on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 11:03:34 PM EST

    I think it'd be much nicer if there were say 5 old-style controls for most necessary things and a touch screen with programmable menus. If you often change your seat's height, you could put 2 buttons with preset value in root menu, a button to play a random song from playlist of mp3s, etc. The key here is having interface you can modify to your needs, move most used controls within reach, move others not to clutter the screen.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    22 and whshing for the good old days... (none / 0) (#157)
    by LostAbbott on Thu Apr 18, 2002 at 02:30:21 PM EST

    I don't know what the deal is these days but I remember when I had my old 1970's car in High School and I could fix just about any problem with a wrench, some wire, and duct tape. The Idrive system is just another addition causing us to have to take our car to the BWM sponsored mechanic when it goes wrong so they can charge us $1000.00 to replace a $3.00 transistor that failed. What do I do when I am out in the middle of nowhere and my car dies? It is not likely that it will be really cheap for the BMW tow truck to drive 300 miles to come pick up my car and bring it back to all their special diagnostic machines. So I can find out that a wire got wet and caused my car to totally short out... This movement to totally electronic cars is a bad Idea and I would love to see a backlash against car companies who build cars that we cannot maintain and trouble shoot ourselves.

    hmmm (none / 0) (#159)
    by ro on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 09:26:19 AM EST

    So you could fix almost any problem on your old car with a wrench. I've been there, I still own 2 60s/70s cars that I can repair myself. But the point is I do have to repair them myself, and quite often too. I used to have the same point of view about older cars being better but have been forced to change that as I do not have the time to go and work on them all the time. I am buying a new(ish) car this weekend in the hope it will not break as much.

    [ Parent ]
    i like it (none / 0) (#161)
    by fourseven on Sun Apr 21, 2002 at 11:55:13 AM EST

    i like it. i'm working on my portable EMP device, and i'd just love to take out high-end luxury vehicles with one discharge. especially fun at 100 mph..

    Mercedes has drive-by-wire concept. (none / 0) (#162)
    by mattmcp on Sun Apr 21, 2002 at 10:15:24 PM EST

    I saw it at their Champs Elysees storefront two years ago. There were two joysticks and either could control steering, acceleration and braking. There was no steering wheel or pedals, just the joysticks. Steering was by left-right motion and the joystick was mounted so that it slid forward and back on a rail and that's what controlled acceleration/braking. I have to say it was odd to see a car minus a steering wheel and pedals. There is a ton more room. There was even a movie of one of the Benz engineers driving it on the autobahn.

    Reinventing the automotive UI or just another gimmick - the BMW 7 Series | 165 comments (156 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
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