Heebie Jeebies

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There is a downside to getting these brand-new cars to test drive all the time. I know what’s coming before you do. A hint, the leading edge. The camel’s nose under the tent. It’s just a whiff, sometimes.

But the aroma is unmistakable.

The smell of Uncle. His filthy presence, spoiling all the fun.

It makes me toss and turn; makes it hard to enjoy the cars. Here’s an example:

For about the past year, I’ve noticed that – irrespective of make or model – new cars with factory installed GPS have this creepy little icon on the LCD display screen that reminds you (oh-so-helpfully) of the speed limit on whatever road you happen to be driving on at that particular moment. It’s white with black letters – just like the real (physical) signs. And it updates in real time, as you drive.

Think about that.

What do you suppose it portends?

I’ve long suspected that it’s like Lego. This - a helpful notification about the speed limit – is the first piece. A building block. Onto which the next block will be placed.

Last week, I got to see the next block.

A brand-new (and all-new) 2014 Mazda3 sedan arrived for me to test drive. All the latest bells and whistles. Including an updated take on the oh-so-helpful speed limit “sign.” It now turns angry red in real time whenever and wherever you exceed the speed limit.

It shifts back to black on white once you reduce your speed to within legal parameters.

Now, kiddies, what do you suppose the next piece of electronic Lego will be?

To recap:

Most new cars have GPS, which makes it feasible for the car to “know” at any given moment where it is, where it’s headed - and where it’s been. As well as how fast it’s going. Or gone. The data can be – is – recorded.

It can also be transmitted.

GPS technology is “send and receive.” In order for the car to know its position (and speed) at any given moment, it must be able to communicate with GPS satellites in real time. This communication is not a one-way street. Many factory GPS systems have “concierge” or “emergency” services that are explicitly two-way. Lesser known – but working on the same principle – many new cars (like the 2014 BMW 3 I have this week) can send – and receive – service updates and such like. Wi-fi Internet/e-mail access is becoming a not-uncommon in-car feature.

Cars so equipped “know” exactly what the speed limit is on any given road, at any given moment – just as they know the name/number of the road itself. They also know when you’re “speeding” – as Mazda’s helpful little helper helpfully lets you know. I have no doubt they also know exactly how much you’re “speeding,” too. This is not – yet – displayed.

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