Thursday May 16, 2013
If you've ever kicked around the idea of adding a video game system to your car (or just wanted to bring one along on a long road trip to keep the kids entertained), it's about to get a lot easier. In the past, you could either stick to portable handhelds or go the route of wiring in an inverter, installing some type of mobile video screen, and then plugging in your console. Thanks to the relatively low power needs of the Wii U, there's now another middle-ground option available.
The Wii U is Nintendo's "next gen" console that was released last fall. The console is significantly under-powered in comparison to the upcoming consoles that Microsoft and Sony are expected to release within the next year, but it has a couple things going for it that make it almost perfect for an in-car gaming system. The first is the unique controller, which contains a touchscreen LCD. Some games use this second screen to display asynchronous information, but it can also be used for "off screen play" in many cases. Basically, that means you can hook up your Wii U in your car and play certain games without worrying about a TV.
So, what about power? That's the other thing that the Wii U has going for it. Since it doesn't use as much power as some other consoles, you can actually run it off a 12v accessory outlet or cigarette lighter jack. That means you don't have to worry about how big of an inverter to buy, and you also don't have to go to the trouble of wiring one in. Peripheral manufacturer Maxbuy now makes a power supply that includes one port for a Wii U power cable and another one for a USB cable, which can be used to power a Wii U gamepad or any other USB device.
Of course, there's a reason I said the Wii U is almost perfect for an in-car gaming system. The main drawback of the Wii U in comparison to, say, the PS3 or Xbox 360, is that the Wii U can't play DVDs, digital video files, or, in the case of the PS3, Blu-rays. So while an Xbox or a PS3 can function as a pretty comprehensive in-car multimedia entertainment system if you go to the trouble of hooking it up right, a Wii U can't do anything but play games (and stream video if you have a mobile hotspot.)
You're also limited to single player games, so don't expect to get any couch co-op going on in the back seat of your mini van.
Image courtesy of Doug Kline, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)
Sunday May 5, 2013
The golden age of the rhythm game game genre (with all of its delightful plastic instruments) has drawn to a close in our living rooms, but could it possibly make a resurgence in our cars? One man thinks so, and he's hoping that the general public agrees. The basic idea is that people already tap on their steering wheels in time to their radios, so why not hybridize a steering wheel cover with a Rock Band drum kit, marry that with a smartphone app, and Kickstart the whole thing?
That the project launched towards the tail end of distracted driving month doesn't seem to be lost on the Smack Attack Corporation, which addresses the issue of driver distraction head on both in the body of the Kickstarter and in the FAQs. In fact, Smack Attack argues that their RITW (Re-Inventing the Wheel) steering wheel cover might actually help fight "highway hypnosis." The National Safety Council might disagree with that assertion, but the answer probably lies in whether playing a rhythm game is a thinking or non-thinking task.
There is an argument to be made for any product that can fight driver drowsiness, and there are some pretty goofy, low-tech solutions that actually (sort of) work. Countless OTR truckers will attest to the fact that simple ear-mounted devices that sound an alarm when your head slumps to a certain degree have saved their lives, and a number of companies are working on high tech solutions that do basically the same thing.
So could a rhythm game mounted on your steering wheel help fight driver drowsiness? Common sense says that it probably could, but common sense also indicates that it would do so by engaging your brain in a thinking task other than driving. And according to the National Safety Council, our brains just aren't capable of focusing properly on two thinking tasks at once. In fact, the above-linked infographic states that people talking on hands-free cell phones have slower reaction times than people whose BAC is over the legal limit for intoxication.
Of course, it's ultimately up to the driver as to how he or she uses any technology in his or her car, and modern cars are full of well-intentioned electronic distractions. Smack Attack also points out a co-op features that seems like it would be a blast at tailgates. Rock Band and Guitar Hero always shined brightest when you could get a whole band together, and taking the party on the road (in a responsible manner) just might scratch that old rhythm game itch for anyone who has been lamenting the decline of the genre.
Image courtesy of J Cornelius, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)
Sunday April 14, 2013
When I was called for jury duty last month, one of the lawyers asked a couple of questions about alcohol and driving during voire dire. First she asked if anyone thought it was "okay" to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol, and nobody raised a hand. Then she asked if anyone had ever driven after drinking any amount of alcohol, and at least a dozen tentative hands went up around the courtroom. The fundamental disconnect between what's okay for us but not okay for other people can be striking at times, and it's not just limited to drunk driving. According to a recent report from the NHTSA, a similar gulf exists between public opinion and personal behavior when it comes to another vital car safety issue: distracted driving.
Like drunk driving, distracted driving ruins (and ends) lives every day, but people continue doing it anyway. According to the NHTSA report, at any given moment in the US, there are over 600,000 people who are both driving and using various electronic devices. That's a staggering number, but it doesn't even take other distractions (like kids and other passengers) into account. And the results of an NHTSA poll about distracted driving are just as staggering. Almost 75 percent of respondents supported bans on cellphone use while driving, but 50 percent said that they answer incoming calls from behind the wheel. Another 25 percent admitted to actually placing calls. A lot of those people are probably (hopefully) using handsfree devices, but that doesn't completely eliminate the issue of distraction.
Modern cars are full of distractions, from infotainment systems to ADAS like intelligent speed adaptation that are actually meant to make you safer, so cellphone use is only one small part of the picture. Other factors, like drowsiness, can result in distracted driving that's arguably even more dangerous than talking on a phone or fiddling with text messages, and research from Australia found that kids are one of the biggest offenders of all. According to one study, the average parent's eyes were completely off the road for over three minutes over the course of a 16 minute drive.
April is National Distracted Driving month in the US, so this is a good time to think about the various distractions in our cars and trucks and how we can pay a little more attention to the road. The National Safety Council has a great infographic that highlights the dangers of cellphone use when you're driving:
It's worth sharing if you know anyone who still harbors any lingering doubts about the dangers of distracted driving.
Infographic courtesy of the National Safety Council
Sunday April 7, 2013
NVIDIA and AMD are the titans of the GPU world, and they have battled over market share for everything from PCs to smartphones and even video game systems. AMD has a lock on the next generation of video game consoles, but NVIDIA hasn't exactly been left out in the cold. Some of the most powerful smartphone and tablet platforms out there are running on Tegra chipsets, and NVIDIA is targeting a growing market with its newest development platform: automotive infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems.
The new platform, which is named after your favorite retro-futuristic cartoon family, is a modular box that packs a powerful, automotive-grade Tegra 3 processor, CUDA-capable discrete GPU, and a 64 GB mSATA Drive. The platform also comes with all of the main connectivity options that you'd expect out of an infotainment system, including WiFi, Bluetooth, and a GPS antenna.
This all-in-one development platform is designed to allow rapid prototyping of both infotainment systems and ADAS, and the processing power is apparently more than enough to handle complicated tasks like image recognition in order to do the heavy lifting for collision avoidance systems and other life-saving technologies.
If you're starting to think that a platform like NVIDIA's Jetson would make for the perfect DIY carputer hardware, you're probably right. The platform is compatible with both Linux and Android, so it would probably be pretty easy for an imaginative DIYer to rig up something pretty special (the built-in connectivity means you could probably interface directly with anything from an ELM327 Bluetooth device to your phone.) Unfortunately, Jetson is intended as a prototyping platform and while it's available this month, only NVIDIA-approved developers will actually be able to order kits.
A guy sure can dream, though.
Image © 2013 NVIDIA Corporation