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Look out! Poke!

When you’re heading to the airport to catch the nonstop from Austin to San Jose you’ll grab whatever is handy in order to have something to read on the plane.  In this case I grabbed that stack of magazines that has been growing on my bedstand.  I wasn’t sure how old the lowest strata of the pile was, but it had been growing for a while.

Once on the plane I discovered that I had a still-in-the-plastic copy of the July 2010 issue of IEEE Spectrum, graced with a striking photo of a gallium nitride crystal on the front cover.  After looking around to find the nearest exit, keeping in mind that it might be behind me, I settled in to find out what was news mid last year.  Inside I found an article about a car seat that has some smarts, and can give you a poke or a shake when it thinks something is wrong.

Researchers at Yale University, including former Segway engineer John Morrell, have developed the seat, which incorporates 20 cellphone vibrators arrayed across the drivers back, and rotating cams that really bring the message home by poking the driver in the ribs.    The system is activated as a car approaches from behind and enters the “blind spot” (I put that in quotes for a reason).  The center, left, or right vibrators activate depending on the location of the car.  Their simulations, using The Open Racing Car Simulator (TORCS), show that a driver with the system spends less time driving with a car in the blind spot than does one without the system.

The researchers reason that the tactile warning is more effective than a visual warning because while driving the visual sense is already saturated.  That seems to make sense but it seems to me that a vibrating buzzing seat is going to be an annoyance, and will suffer the same fate as those seatbelt buzzers from back when — i.e. they’ll be unplugged.

Here’s a better idea that I picked up a couple years ago from a subscription I used to have to Popular Mechanics (Christmas gift from my sister — thanks Traci).  Simply adjusting your mirrors correctly will eliminate the blind spot completely and allow your ribs some respite from that renegade, um, resonance.  Outside mirrors are usually adjusted so that you can just see the edge of the car in the mirror.  That’s the way I learned to adjust them, but that adjustment is the reason that every Driver’s Ed book has a picture like the one above in it.

A better way is to tilt your head to the left until it rests against the window, and then adjust the mirror so that you can just see the edge of the car.  That may push the limits of how far the mirror will swing.  Now when you sit normally you can’t see your car in the mirror, and it will seem a little disconcerting, as though you don’t know where it is pointing.  However, when you start to drive you’ll notice that the new mirror position starts to pick up an approaching car while it is still visible in your rear view mirror.  And it stays visible in your side mirror until it is plainly visible in your peripheral vision out the side window.  It never disappears from sight — no more blind spot, and no need to look back over your shoulder.

The right mirror can be adjusted accordingly.  Tilt your head generously to the right and adjust the right mirror until you can just see the edge of your car.  It works the same way, a car approaching from the right is continuously visible from rear view mirror, to side mirror, to side window.

So get those mirrors adjusted correctly, and hey, let’s be careful out there.

Steve Ravet

Design News Gadget Freak

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