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The small flaw in high-tech cars

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High-tech cars may offer the ultimate in automated safety features, but that means little in the face of idiot drivers, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The fundamental flaw of futuristic vehicle technology came home to me with a bang in a parking lot in Johannesburg. And I wasn’t even in the car.

The Ford Fusion 1.5 EcoBoost is a superb combination of the traditional luxury sedan of the past decade and the early days of the connected car of tomorrow. The comfort and silence inside the car leaves one almost detached from the road, making it possible to dull the torture of traffic and idiot drivers.

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The technology built into the car is startling, given the common view of Ford as being an everyman vehicle with only the basics in place. A system called Active Park Assist finds parking spaces and steers the vehicle in. As the brochure tells it: “Simply put the car into gear and take your hands off the wheel. All you have to do is work the accelerator and brake. It even steers you out of your parking, hands-free.”

And yes, it works. The bane of the learner driver, parallel parking, solved by high-tech.

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The Blind Spot Information System activates indicator lights on the side mirrors if  a vehicle has snuck into your blind spot while you’re changing lanes. “So you can see what you can’t see,” Ford cutely puts it.

The Lane Keeping Aid adds to this category of safety: it monitors road markings, and detects if the vehcile is unintentionally moving out of its lane – i.e. when the indicator isn’t on. A vibrating steering wheel, as if driving over a corrugated surface, makes for a very tactile warning. If you’re still verring out of your lane without having indicated, the system applies steering torque to urge you back into your lane.

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If that isn’t enough, Active City Stop watches out for that moment when the driver becomes too detached from the traffic while stuck in the kind of bumper-to-bumper situation where the car’s entertainment system just begs to be explored. It only works in slow traffic: at less than 30km/h, it detects a sudden stop by the vehicle in front of the car, and applies brakes. No, it isn’t artificial intelligence. It is more of an advanced version of a thermostat in a fridge or toaster triggering automatic responses.

That gives us an inkling of what will be possible when we bring real artificial intelligence to bear on vehicle technology. It also goes some way to explain why there is so much hope for the self-driving car of the near future, and the role it can play in reducing accidents. The Ford Fusion 1.5 EcoBoost is an ideal bridge to this future.

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But there is one thing the technology still cannot do: deal with idiot drivers. And let’s face it, we’re all idiot drivers somewhere along the road.

In my case, it was an idiot parker. Or someone trying to manoeuvre out of a tight parking spot without watching where they were going, which is a synonym for an idiot parker. This resulted in a not-so-neat modification of the Ford Fusion’s rear end, and a visit to the nearest police station to report an accident.

This was doubly sad, since the Fusion is also fitted with a rear-view parking camera. It not only provides a clear view of what lurks behind, but also has proximity sensors that beep when you get too close to the object. The beeping intensifies as you get closer, and automatically turns down the music so that the noise of the beeps can penetrate your head-banging to Beethoven or Iron Maiden.

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The problem with the technology is that it only works when you are using it. Once the car is parked and switched off, the safety systems go to sleep. Which means that your car is at the mercy of the idiot parker.

On the open road, it also means that, as high-tech as the safety systems may be on your car, you are still at the mercy of the inadequate specs of other cars or their drivers.

That is the fundamental flaw of the self-driving car of the future. As long as there are human-propelled vehicles on the road, and as long as idiot drivers keep being drivers or idiots, the safest cars in the world may still be subject to the risks and perils of the rest.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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