12 March 2010

Black Boxes ~ Safety & Improvement Systems

Zipcar and GoLoco co-founder and MIT alumna Robin Chase opines today in the NYTimes about Driving by the Numbers, making the case for access to vehicle informatics, and specifically for...
"...simply more transparency. Indeed, there is a relatively easy solution that would help identify problems before they affect thousands of cars, or kill and injure dozens of people: allow drivers and carmakers real-time access to the data that’s already being monitored. Current federal law requires annual emissions and safety inspections for all cars. A mechanic plugs an electronic reader into what’s known as the onboard diagnostic unit, a computer that sits under your dashboard, monitoring data on acceleration, emissions, fuel levels and engine problems. The mechanic can then download the data to his own computer and analyze it. Because carmakers believe such diagnostic data to be their property, much of it is accessible only by the manufacturer and authorized dealers and their mechanics. And even then, only a small amount of the data is available -- most cars’ computers don’t store data, they only monitor it. [...] But what if a car’s entire data stream was made available to drivers in real time? You could use, for instance, a hypothetical "analyze-my-drive" application for your smart phone to tell you when it was time to change the oil or why your "check engine" light was on."
Excellent idea! And I think part of a larger movement to have the equivalent of airliner flight-recorders -- a.k.a. Black Boxes -- much more widely deployed -- in cars, all vehicles, certainly fleets, in our houses, our offices, on our pets, and certainly on our selves and loved ones. Spyware? No, think of it as a booming Improvement Informatics venture opportunity domain.

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