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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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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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