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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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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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