Avoiding tailgating cars

For some reason, I tend to think about taillights more than a healthy person should. And that thinking recently turned into a vision — a vision of a bold new taillight function that I think could be very helpful: the non-brake-activated stop light.

A stop light. Not a brake light. Keep in mind, there hasn’t been a new innovation in taillight function since 1986’s Center High Mount Stop Lamp — and I’m sure all of you remember exactly what you were doing when that was announced.

What I’m proposing today is perhaps the most radical change/addition to the pantheon of rear lighting since, oh, the noble reversing light. It’s the first automotive light that would be activated by actions other than the driver’s. Here’s what I’m thinking.P

This lamp, which I’m going to call the Proximity Activated Stop Lamp (PASL) would leverage current commonplace technology already found on many cars — rear parking sensors and/or rear-view cameras. The basic function of the light would be to illuminate when a car from the rear is either too close to the car in front, or approaching the leading car too rapidly, regardless of what the forward car’s driver is doing with the brake.7P

So, it would be activated in situations like this: you’re driving along, at a reasonable speed, when some jackass comes barreling up behind you, at about 10 MPH more than your speed. The PASL would activate when it saw the car approaching your car’s ‘safe zone’ to let the driver behind you know, hey, slow down, jackass. You would never need to apply your brakes or anything.8P

Same goes for situations on, say, the highway where someone is following you far too closely to stop safely if they had to. Say you’re both doing 70 and they’re two car lengths behind you. That’s not uncommon at all, and if you had to stop suddenly, that car behind you would rapidly be climbing into your back seat. The PASL would activate as long as they were too close.9P

As far as what the activation of the light would be like, I’m thinking there’s no need to introduce a new segment into the light clusters. A PASL would look like a rapidly-flashing CHMSL. I think to differentiate it from tapping the brakes, it should only activate in the high-mount brake light, and the rapid flashing would call more attention to it than the standard brake lights.

Technologically, I think this shouldn’t be too bad to accomplish. Current-use rear parking proximity sensors could be the basis for this sort of thing, but their range would need to be retuned for the distances that the PASL would deal with, and those distances would be based on speed, so it’s not bothering people at stop lights. So there’d need to be a bit of logic here, but modern cars have plenty of CPU cycles available to handle this sort of task.14P

The soon-to-be-mandatory rear-view cameras could also be used for this, with a bit of image processing for a computer to see how close a car is behind you, and by referencing that with your speed and how quickly the car approaches (grows larger on the image) from frame to frame, the PASL could be activated.P

I could see this also being useful in low-visibility situations, where a car can very dramatically show you where it is, automatically, as you approach from behind in situations where even seeing normal taillights would be difficult.P

I feel like the technology is readily available and just about already built into many cars to accomplish this, and it would fill a valuable safety hole in our current abilities of car-to-driver communication. Because it uses the same lens as an existing light, car stylists don’t have to figure out where to incorporate it, and it keeps costs down for automakers.


Car mode

Texting while driving kills more people than drunk driving. Yet most of us are probably guilty of the transgression: Your iPhone chirps. You glance around at the traffic. Then you make a quick grab for the cupholder to read the message. And in the worst cases, you might even message back.

Are we all guilty? Sure. But we’re also stuck inside a design problem, according to Joey Cofone and Michael Vanderbyl, who’ve created an elegant conceptual solution to our lack of self-discipline called Car Mode. Rather than distracting us with constant, alluring notifications, Car Mode gimps your iPhone in the name of safety.

The system is activated passively, going into Car Mode as soon as the iPhone pairs with your car’s Bluetooth system. From here, you can take hands-free calls or follow turn-by-turn navigation in the same manner as always. But when someone sends you a text message, they’ll be notified that you’re currently driving. Meanwhile, the phone won’t alert you in any way–no bleeps or buzzes or onscreen alerts. Instead, when you exit the car or turn off the ignition, a summary screen will greet you with any and all messages you’d missed.

Getting a text in between forkfuls of pasta doesn’t kill you. Getting a text while driving can. Despite that it’s just a concept, the team worked within the API and UI logic of iOS 7. “It was important that we stick to the infrastructure already created and apply it across our concept,” Cofone tells Co.Design. “This way new users can immediately feel familiar with the new functions and seamlessly apply them to their life.”

And Car Mode really is seamless–so seamless, in fact, that it makes us wonder if contextual user interface could drive a better iPhone experience across the board. After all, iOS already allows users to disable some functions on planes or block calls late at night. What if these shifts were modeled more after Car Mode, and with a lot more frequency?

“Dinner Mode may sound like a good idea–no more distractions when you’re eating with your family–but getting a text while driving can kill you.”

Could the iPhone be a device that’s constantly tailoring itself to an environment?
Even still, the potential that Car Mode brings to mind is about so much more than texting. Could the iPhone be a device that’s constantly tailoring itself to an environment, keeping quiet in a movie theater while streamlining price comparisons and calorie counts at a supermarket? Could the phone go a step further, and know what you’re holding at a store to provide more information about it, or recognize you’re at a concert and automatically push you tweets from other people at that concert?

There’s no reason why any of these things aren’t possible, or even a bit probable, now or in the near future. But the beauty of Car Mode is that it tunes much of the world out, while contextual technologies may likely tune even more of the world in.