Unfortunately "natural selection is very brutal". The other statement that I can recall from reading that essay years ago is that "Natures pluck is very harsh".
More recently I have read comments on the web about the "dumbing down of society", and see that it has extended to most of the developed countries.
All that you need to look at to verify the reality is the European safety standards for industrial control enclosures. Not only do they mandate interlocking so that an enclosure can't be opened with the power on, but in addition, all the power wiring must be guarded inside the enclusure, so that three or more deliberate actions are needed to access the areas that would need to be serviced.
Another prime example is the common rotary lawnmower, which has evolved into a much less easy to use and maintain device. Now, releasing the handgrip not only shuts off the engine, but applies a brake to quicly stop the blade, the purpose being to prevent users from sticking their hands into the rotating blade. Who would be dumb enough to do that???
But back to the auto industry and their problems. Right now we are in an era of increasing distractions for the driver, and it appears that these are primarily driven by marketing types desperately striving for "product differentiation", or how to one-up the other brands. If that were eliminated, or at least reduced, it may come back that cars would be judged on quality, and perhaps even on overall cost of ownership. Unfortunately I don't see that happening in the next few years.
I thought Auto makers where being quite innovative. Speach recognition software, variable rate struts using magnetic fluid, variable piston valve, 5-cylinder engines, partial engine shut off, mp3 players, usb terminals, variable rate steering (more common), transmissions that recognize shift patterns and optimize, better all time traction systems that provide 4x4, additional exhaust burner for diesels, improved ABS, more airbags, overhead cam engines (more popular). Better door seals, sun roofs, and windshields. And... the sedan keeps getting smaller and smaller.
If suppliers cater to automakers, which they probably do already, shouldn't prices go up and wouldn't all cars start looking the same? Well.. they do more or less already. So... what's to change?
Far more than any need for the auto industry to innovate would be for the government to stop interfereing with thousands of stupid regulations.
The driver distractions that should be regulated are not limited at all, while the expensive systems designed to save poor drivers are mandatory, and we all must pay for them. Almost all of us know how to avoid rolling a car over, so why do we have to pay for the performance inhibiting stability control system?
Most of us are smart enough to fasten our seatbelts, so why must we pay a whole lot for an airbag system? Consider that it is possible to be involved in a collision that you can drive away from, but if the airbags trigger that adds about $2500 to the repair costs.
The best innovations would remove driver distractions and allow the driver to pay full attention to driving. Some will argue, but the fact is that driving still requires a drivers complete attention. So the best innovations would be those that reduce driver distraction.
Dashboard icons drive me crazy. They are so non descript or misinfomational that they do nothing but confuse. I totally paniced when my Toyota started flashing the ANSI 'DANGER' icon telling me of imminent death, only to later find out that this is the icon used when I haven't changed my oil for 5,000 miles. And then there's the passenger airbag enabled icon on the dash that can't be dimmed, glaring in my eyes during an all-night drive. I wonder if these engineers have ever bothered to take one of their creations for an actual real drive on a highway. or just stick to the test oval during work hours.
And then there's gage visibility. Why do they always place every important gage directly behind the stearing wheel? I can't read my speed, gas gage, temperature, or turn signals without streaching a squirming around in my seat. At least they could make the turn signal audio loud enough to hear. Whay can't everyone bounce the important gages off the windshield in every car like they did in my Prius?
Truth be known, the main reson I bought my Venza is that it's the only car I could find where rear passengers can get out of the back seat without having to bring their feet over the top of the seat to get out the door because the pillar normally gets in the way.
They have most of the innovative answers, it's just a matter of doing something with them.
Yes, Ivan, there is a lot of room for improvement. However, I would much rather see this improvement be on an optional basis with manual overrides in the area of operator interface. There have been a couple of "Monkey" articles on this site relating to allegedly high-end interfaces on appliances with automatic sensors for everything that seem to cause more problems than they are worth. When my car is 10 years old, I want the windshield wipers to turn on when I tell them to, not have to worry about some obsolete microprocessor-based wetness monitor to fail.
Lots of good ideas there, Ivan, and the panel's commentary around the industry needing to step up the game as it relates to more collaborative efforts between suppliers and OEMs is sound.
The message does appear to be resonating with companies in the auto industry sector as Chuck has written a lot lately about new "co-opetition" arrangements between car companies collaborating on power trains and batteries in order to cross-pollinate ideas and share intellectual property. I agree need to see more of this on both the OEM front and with suppliers.
I think they are definitely behind the curve on this one.
Vehicle weight has not dropped significantly enough over the past years and this is the single most important factor in reducing fuel consumption. The availability of better manufacturing and materials should have created lighter weight vehicles.
Human interface design has defitely not kept up. Granted we are not talking about changing the basic steering wheel and pedals, although that could be addressed, but all the other controls and systems. Rain sensors, stereo controls, lights should at least have voice activation like Ford's Sync. Better yet, automate them completely so the car knows more about what it should do for you in the first place. Navigation and status could be on a LCD display instead of an add on. And when they are built in, they should not cost much.
Maintenance indicators and sensors should provide clear text indications of what is going on. Illuminating an engine light instead of telling the driver exactly what is going on is just plain silly. If it is a loss of oil pressure say so or print the text on the display. Idiot lights are well named. Display the real message and not a computer code that takes a special device to read.
Design for recycling and disposal as well. Or better yet upgrades in the future. I can easily replace the CPU, power supply, disk drives and add more memory to my computers. Why can the same thing not be applied to the cars? An engine change should be readily available to replace it with a new one or more fuel efficient one. Same for some of the wear components in the interior.
As energy efficiency becomes more and more a concern for makers of electronics devices, researchers are coming up with new ways to harvest energy from sound vibration, footsteps, and even electromagnetic fields in the air.
The government wants to study your brain, and DARPA wants to use similar information to give robots true autonomy beyond any artificial intelligence developed to date. Sound like science fiction? It's not.
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