The most under-hyped, but most important, technology since seat belts

I’ve read dozens of retrospectives on the 2000s and 2009, in particular, in the past few days and quite a few predictions for what technology will be important to pay attention to in 2010 but none of those that I’ve seen have talked about this technology and this one could save your life.

Stats: “Car Crash Stats: There were nearly 6,420,000 auto accidents in the United States in 2005. The financial cost of these crashes is more than 230 Billion dollars. 2.9 million people were injured and 42,636 people killed. About 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in the United States — one death every 13 minutes.”

Think about that. If we could cut down on car crashes by even 5% we could save more than 2,000 lives!

For the last 11,000 miles I’ve been using a technology that could do just that: radar is built into my car. I think it’s criminal that it’s not in every new car. Just like it was criminal for car makers to drag their feet pushing out seat belts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes in previous safety fights.

After 11,000 miles I’ve seen up close what this technology can do.

Twice it has sensed I was about to get into a crash and pre-fired the brakes, tightened up my seat belts, and warned me with both visual and audio alerts that I was about to get into a crash (both times someone had cut me off forcing me to apply emergency braking).

But it’s not just about accident avoidance, either. Recently I had a conversation with Ford’s Chief Safety Engineer, Steve Kozak. You should watch this interview to learn about this technology (it’s in two parts, Part I, Part II).

What does my 2010 Prius do with its radar? It has the best cruise control I’ve ever used and I’ve been in some very expensive and nice cars. Here’s how it works:

I pull onto a road, say freeway 280, and I set the cruise control. I set the top speed the car should ever go. Say 80 mph. But it doesn’t go 80 unless there’s no cars in front of me. Usually in Silicon Valley there’s traffic. So, the car in that case follows the car in front of me.

But they just slammed on their brakes to avoid something. What does my car do? It slams on its brakes too. It is so reliable I no longer impulsively reach for my brakes. Let’s say the car in front of me speeds up after slamming on its brakes. My car speeds up too. It’s like there is a rope between my car and theirs. It is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

Why haven’t they just made my car totally drive itself? Because customers just aren’t ready for it, says Ford’s Kozak in the video. He explains how the 2010 Ford Taurus uses this technology in a much different way from my Prius due to customer research that showed Ford most people just aren’t ready for assisted driving technologies like exist in my Prius (my Prius also has a video camera that works with my steering system to keep me in lane and warns me if I am drifting out of my lane — great to warn you that you’re falling asleep at the wheel. Toyota has demos of these technologies on its 2010 Prius site).

Ford also uses radar to help when backing its car out of a parking spot. In part II of my video you can see him show how that works.

But the real deal here is the accident avoidance and preparation for getting in a wreck if you are headed that way. Kozak told me that very few people fully depress the brakes before a crash. If they had, he told me, lives would have been saved. Ford’s version of radar prepares the brakes so that all you need to do is touch them to get full braking pressure if the car thinks it’s headed for a collision.

Another place the radar is invaluable? In fog. I drive over the Santa Cruz mountains every day to get home and there often is fog. One day there was a car in front of me that had no back taillights. This would be a very dangerous situation in a normal car in deep fog (there are often crashes in the central valley that involve dozens of cars due to fog). My radar saw this car before I did and slowed down and kept its distance.

If you only watch one part of the videos I shot, watch the second part which gives a demo of how the tech works.

Why doesn’t this technology get hyped on Techcrunch or Mashable or other blogs?

A few reasons:

1. Most tech journalists haven’t bought a new car in the past year. So, they don’t get to see the latest 2010 technology.
2. The market doesn’t change over to new cars very quickly like we do with other gadgets or services. Look how long it took for Americans to get used to wearing seat belts (in many states it took legislation to get car owners to take them seriously).
3. Safety systems just aren’t as “sexy” as other toys on cars like Microsoft’s Sync system.
4. There aren’t big companies who are pushing the radar systems to bloggers. At CES next week, for instance, I’ve already gotten tons of PR invites to see Microsoft’s new Sync system that lets you control music and other systems in the car with your voice, but no company has invited me to see their radar system.
5. It’s hard to demo. I didn’t get how important this new technology is until I had driven several hundred miles in my car and had a near miss and gotten used to the assisted driving features.
6. It’s expensive. My system came with an electronics package that cost many thousands of dollars. Now, yes, I got LED headlights, navigation system, and a few other toys (better stereo) but I know only a small percentage of Toyota Prius buyers go for the expensive package.

So, this technology faces some major challenges. What are they?

1. Engineers still are figuring out what’s the right way to use this technology. You can see that in the video with Ford’s engineer.
2. This technology is still expensive, so will remain for cars that are $30,000 or more for at least the next year.
3. There isn’t much consumer demand for these systems yet (there will be as accident data comes in, because I’m convinced it will save lives and the data in a year will show that) but that’s partly because very little marketing is being done around these systems. How many Prius commercials have you seen that show off this system? I haven’t seen one, even though Toyota has shown off automatic parking.
4. Even when consumers pay for these systems I bet that most don’t even know to use the cruise control. My wife, for instance, hates cruise control so she never turns on the system that can help her drive better, even though it is more accurate than her own eye is and safer too.

Anyway, this is one technology that is way underhyped and not talked about nearly enough. If you have a chance to buy a new car in the next year you should consider buying a car with a radar system. It just might save your life.

Oh, Joe, the world doesn't need a Tablet? Really?

Oh, Joe Wilcox sure knows how to get bloggers going when he wrote about how the hype over Tablet PCs is just way overdone. His headline? The world doesn’t need an Apple tablet, or any other.

I’ll focus on the “or any other” part of the discussion first.

For some fun, I took pictures of devices that didn’t exist 10 years ago but are part of our everyday life, just to prove that Joe’s wrong about the “or any other” part of his post.

First, a device that looks like a tablet computer ran the restaurant we were in tonight. Here’s a picture:
Restaurant Tablet computer

In my car (the 2010 Prius) is a device that looks and acts like a tablet. Here’s a picture:

A tablet-like computer in my car

In my favorite gas station are devices on top of each pump that look like tablet computers. Here’s a picture:
Gas pump computer

When I was in China taxis have screens in them that look like tablet computers. I have a video of that over here.

I could keep going all night long on this. Tablets and devices that look like tablets are all around. If that’s a “niche market” it’s fine with me. Niche markets can be quite profitable.

But someone has already made quite a few of the other arguments I’d make about Joe’s post. That someone is MG Siegler who wrote at Techcrunch tonight “the World Doesn’t Need Someone Telling Us What We Don’t Need In Tech.” MG Siegler ripped Joe a good one, and I agree with MG that Apple is a great company because they are willing to take risks, even some that don’t seem to work out very well. Apple TV anyone?

But I think even MG missed that something else is going on here: devices, even really cool ones, are coming down in cost and coming down quickly. Five years ago a $400 netbook looked pretty lame. Today? They are VERY usable devices with great screens, processors, and quite a bit of memory.

Look five years out and the device that is $1,000 today will probably be $200 or less.

And, what if AT&T got a clue and gave those of us who already pay huge fees for our iPhone connectivity (I pay more for my family’s connectivity than many people pay for a car payment) a huge break?

If these devices got cheap enough I might buy one or two for our cars. Why? You forget I have two young children, don’t you? And that I drive about 30,000 miles a year so need access to the best maps and traffic info (which is why I play with things like Waze, which just aren’t ready for widespread usage yet).

I want more screens in my life, not fewer, and laptops just are NOT appropriate for use in cars (whether in the back seat, while showing Thomas the Tank Engine to the kids) or in the front seat showing data from maps.

Laptops are NOT appropriate for using on the couch while watching TV, either. They force a bad posture and a tablet would be a lot better as a controller for an audio-video system. What would Joe think if Apple came out with an audio video system at the end of the year that the tablet would control? I would buy the whole system. I +hate+ our remote controls and lame ass DirectTV UI. I +wish+ Steve Jobs would take that on.

Laptops are NOT a great way to read magazines. I have the entire National Geographic on one hard drive, here’s a video. It looks pretty cool on an iMac, but how often do you read a magazine like that? I usually like magazines when I’m in places that bringing a laptop into would just not be practical. On the deck of the Ritz. In a bathroom. On a bus. You know, places that people read paper magazines.

Steve Jobs imagines a world where slates get even more popular than they are today.

And then that’s assuming that the world tomorrow won’t be different from the world yesterday. I know Apple is talking with Level 26, for instance. What’s that? It’s a new kind of entertainment property that just was NOT possible 10 years ago. Who developed it? Anthony Zuiker. Don’t know him? Well he was the guy behind the CSI series of TV shows.

Oh, Hollywood.

Yeah, Hollywood.

Now, what else is Steve Jobs up to? Oh, yeah, that little movie house called Pixar that got him a nice share of Disney.

Oh, Disney. Yeah, Disney.

Think about how your experience around Walt Disney World will change if they hand you an Apple Tablet the moment you arrive at Disney.

Yeah, Walt Disney World.

Now, remember Lou Mongello? He does a podcast for Walt Disney World. Here’s an interview with him.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Lou could give you a video and audio tour around Walt Disney World? Damn straight it would.

We all are gonna live in Steve Jobs’s tablet world soon.

Give it up Joe. You need to see a bigger world.

The gadget that makes Steve Jobs jealous

Steve Jobs is a god. All you have to do is look at all the hype and anti-hype over an Apple product that hasn’t even been released yet.

He is one of the only guys I’ve waited in line to fork over my money to. And I will gladly do it again.

But I’m almost 45 and have been looking for a gadget that I think Steve Jobs would be proud to put his name on, but that he didn’t have anything to do with. That search has gone fruitless until now.

Oh, sure, I’ve bought BMWs. Sat in the best, and most expensive Mercedes and other cars. They don’t come close to Apple’s design standards. Heck, you ever played with the navigation system in one of those cars? I have and Steve Jobs would have fired the designer who built the BMW’s. It’s so bad Maryam actually returned the BMW I bought her with it in there to get a car without the nav system (I was grateful, that saved me thousands of dollars).

I’ve been to the Consumer Electronics Show a half dozen times. I’ll be there again next week.

I’ve tried some pretty cool devices like the Pogo Plug, the Drobo, Sony TVs, Tivos, Playstations, Xboxes, Fitbits, and many other devices.

None made me think that Steve Jobs would be jealous. Until now.

So, what is it? This coffee maker. from Nespresso.

Nespresso espresso/latte Maker

“Huh?” I can hear you muttering to yourself. “Scoble is an idiot and this proves it.”

Yeah, keep thinking that. But this coffee maker measures up to Steve Jobs’ high bar.

Why? What makes it so freaking cool?

Is it the little capsules that make it so easy to make different kinds of espresso or lattes?
Is it the two button design? (my other coffee maker has three buttons and three switchable knobs, for comparison’s sake).
Is it the milk warmer/foamer that just makes perfect foam and is easy to use (one button) and easy to clean?
Is it the look of the device that makes my kitchen look better than Starbucks?

Nah, it’s that it’s the first device that makes my iPhone seem flawed. After all, my iPhone can’t make a great latte.

Anyway, I recorded a little audio using my iPhone to further explain what’s cool about this device.

Disclaimer: Loic Le Meur gave me this for speaking at Le Web, but I would gladly pay the $350 retail price and I bought the coffee that goes into it, which, while expensive (about $1 a shot) is about 1/3rd the price of the same quality latte you can get at Starbucks.