Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Horning-in on Opportunity

I love cars.
Always have.
I like driving them, even like fiddling with them (within my limited, mechanical-diagnostic abilities). I once had a crush on a girl in high school who regularly re-built her VW Bug’s engine on her drive way. I found that somewhat erotic, in an abstruse sense. She also played the horn in the band, which is only marginally related to this story line…

Later this week I will be test-driving a new Lexus model, one of the perks of my position as an influential member of the media. Go ahead, ask me anything.

One of the finest automobiles I have ever driven was the Lexus Hybrid GS, which combines neck-snapping acceleration from an electric motor, coupled with a muscular gasoline engine for sustained speeds. An amazing vehicle.

The hybrid automobile space is very exciting…and now, it seems, controversial.

The National Federation for The Blind says the quieter-running electric- and hybrid-automobiles are creating a hazard for the visually challenged, who cannot hear the cars coming. They’re already lobbying for noise makers on the cars, emitting beeps, whistles or buzzes to warn blind folk out of their way.

I think this opens up a whole new realm of opportunity. Just as you can now down-load custom ring-tones for your cell phone, why not have down-loadable “engine tones” for your electric car?

“Listen, is that a Hybrid or a Viper?”
“Dunno—sounds like a Dodge Ram Hemi to me.”
“Better get out of the way…”

This idea is not without precedent.
In Houston, the Metro Transit Authority has begun a surface-level light-rail line. It runs from downtown south through the Texas Medical Center, and terminates just south of the 610 Loop. It’s electric, and it’s quiet.

They call it the Wham-Bam-Tram because in its first year of operations it smacked into 67 motorists and/or pedestrians.
In 2006, the train marked World Braille Day by running over a blind person.

The Wham-Bam-Tram averages one collision every six days. It has a wimpy, electronic whistle sound to alert people it’s a-comin’.

Obviously, rail proponents did not want to upset the neighborhoods through which the route passes, so a kinder, gentler sound was adopted as a warning signal for the train, which resulted in a higher, harder crash rate.
I don’t know about you, but when several hundred tons of steel are bearing down on me, I want to know about it, without a doubt.

None of this wussy, half-hearted “I’m a lite-train cominnnnngggggg (sshhhh!)”
“Lookout, I am softly passing by (ssshhhhh!)”
“Don’t want to disturb youuuuu (sssshhhhh!)”

Nossir, I want to feel the earth move, see the heavens open, and witness fire-breathing mortal-danger with an ear-splitting blast of a quadra-toned compressed-air horn, that leaves no doubt that my time on earth is short if I don’t move off the tracks and out of the way.

What I’d really like to do is down-load that tone for my car.


Chuck said...

Does this new Lexus that you are gonna test drive parallel park itself? I saw a demo on it the other day. Quite remarkable. Let us know how it works.
Chuck Brooks

Brent Clanton said...

I don't know if this new one will park itself or not. The real technological advance I'm interested in cars that will fill themselves up!