RIP FM transmitter?
The companies behind Bluetooth just made a rather fuzzy proclamation that announced the technology is better and badder than ever
, able to integrate portables into your car like never before--that is, eventually. On the phone side, expect the same advanced call handling and address-book features of your fancy phone to be mimicked in-dash via Bluetooth. But I get much more excited about the prospect of using Bluetooth to stream audio from an MP3 player to my car's amps and speakers. No more FM transmitters, cassette adapters, or even iPod-specific adapters, which are an absurdity, given how many other great MP3 players are on the market.
Is the Prius a copycat?
Toyota is accused of ripping off a 1991 patent held by Solomon Technologies in the process of developing Hybrid Synergy Drive, which powers the Prius. Solomon made the accusation before the U.S. International Trade Commission, which, unlike a court, can't assess money damages against Toyota but could order that Toyota's imported hybrid products not be sold in the United States. That could be a problem. I'm no expert on the merits, so maybe you can decipher the patent.
No, actually, they're supposed to do that
With all the electronic bugs plaguing Mercedes-Benz in recent years, you might think that's what's causing the brake lights to blink on the Benz in front of you. But you might be wrong. NHTSA has just given Mercedes permission to sell a few thousand cars here, with brake lights that are supposed to flash when you really jump on the binders for a panic stop. That kind of lighting is currently illegal under U.S. vehicle codes (I wonder if it's also illegal to do it by pumping the brake pedal manually?). But Mercedes offers this feature on European models and now has two years to test it with consumers here in our lighting-backward country.
VoIP for the road
If you're one of those people who tolerates the iffy call quality of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) to shave a few bucks off your phone bill (the same folks who drive 5 miles to save 5 cents a gallon on gas, I suspect), you'll probably like this too: Top Global has announced a wireless mobile bridge that lets you make Skype calls through a 3G cell connection--that is, while driving--without a PC being involved.
Assuming your BlackBerry 7100i is still operating a month from now, you'll be able to get a lot more than e-mail from it: turn-by-turn driving directions. TeleNav's GPS Navigator is a Java-based app that has just been ported to the 7100i, turning it into a GPS nav device for $9.95 a month. It has a few features that you won't even find on most "real" nav units, including a utility that guides you to the cheapest gas station within a 5-mile radius.
Hmm, is this satellite radio thing gonna make it?
XM just posted a real ugly loss in Q4, largely because it had to spend hard to fend off the buzz going to Sirius with its launch of the Howard Stern channels. Now, Sirius is no financial gem either, so even a satellite radio booster such as myself starts to wonder if this whole thing is just a grand experiment, like satellite phones were. I'm not alone; a heavy hitter on the XM board just quit, hinting (rather loudly) that he has some real reservations about XM's viability. Beyond balance sheets and marketing spends, a big problem with sat radio is that it's not local, and frankly, it isn't great radio. It makes a nice addition to your iPod, AM, FM, and CD sources, but it's not the Holy Grail--at least not to my ears.
Do you or will you ever subscribe to satellite radio? Why or why not?
What's the point?
Mazda will soon lease a handful of RX-8 Hydrogen RE's in Japan that run on both gas and hydrogen--not a hydrogen fuel cell, just hydrogen that it burns. Turns out a rotary engine can burn hydrogen with only slight mods, unlike a piston engine that wants to blow itself apart when fed H2. But the numbers are mystifying: This RX-8 can cover only about 62 miles on its hydrogen supply, compared with the 341 it covers using its gasoline supply. And when running on hydrogen, the engine makes a scrawny 109 horsepower vs. 210 horsepower running on gas. So what's the point? Using hydrogen as an emergency backup fuel to avoid pulling out your AAA card? Running on hydrogen 15 percent of the miles to achieve a correspondingly modest miles-per-gallon or emissions improvement? Either I'm missing something, or we are truly in the alternate fuel version of the dot-com era.