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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The new "Car"ma

Daimler-Chrysler recently launched the new Mercedes C and S class. The wonderful thing about it is the presence of a hard-disk on board. This sort of partly fulfils my prediction dated as far back as 1992! It was the time I just introduced to the microprocessor. I was fascinated by what it could do. I had ventured that this programmable piece of electronics was what was needed in the automobile! And along with the micro-processor, there was needed a hard-disk! It brings to one of my most favourite topic of electronics in automobiles. It also gives me confidence to un-veil some of the electronics usage in automobiles.
Pieces of the puzzle!

We observe a lot of developments in different technologies that could make an impact in this field:

  1. Micro-processors are ubiquitous!
  2. Memory is easily available.
  3. Cellular infrastructure is in place! Also GPS systems are already being installed on vehicles.
  4. Sensor technologies are well developed. We already have rain sensors, backing sensors, cameras on board, light sensors etc.
  5. Short range information exchange technologies are available for example, RFID.
  6. Display technologies are well developed, a case in point is the new Honda Civic!

Connecting the dots…Car as a gizmo!

To connect the dots we can look at the development of military hardware. We can hazard a few guesses.

We will see more customizable displays in dashboard. For example, the new speedometer is Civic could be customised into a tachometer! We can also expect the LCD screens on the rear passengers to read out the dashboard so that passengers can keep a check on the chauffer! It will also mean that the dashboard space can actually replace speedometer and other read-outs with camera images while backing up or parking.

Your car will be much more integrated with the manufacturer. The manufacturer can put-in a SIM card to transmit the operation data from the car back to factory test centre! In fact soon you could get a call from your manufacturer informing you that your radiator temperature is suboptimal and you need to bring in the car for repair / maintenance.

The revolution will actually happen when automobiles are integrated with traffic system. This will give a whole new meaning to traffic management systems. In fact we may even get some public announcements being relayed into the car speakers! There a possibility for vehicle to vehicle interaction as well. This will give the driver alerts on obstacles beyond the vehicle in the front giving precious seconds for response in case of accidents. Evolved safety systems depending on faster response, automatic collision avoidance etc. will make life easier and safer for passengers and pedestrians. We can very well look forward to “no overtaking” warnings and “vehicle closing-in” alerts.

We can expect vehicles to have access card system to grant access to various systems. If your card has information that you are an authorized driver for relevant vehicle type then the vehicle will work else it will not turn the ignition on.

In Sum

These developments are all a matter of time. Yet these gizmos are virus-prone. We noticed in Mumbai floods that cars with lot of electronics actually ended up worse-off than plain simple mechanical ones. Devices like power windows turned cars into death traps. So we need effective failure-proofing of these technologies before they get into our garages! All said we are looking into a fantastic future for gizmo lovers!

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Basics" In stints

As I write this Indian cricket team is playing Sri Lanka in world cup. India, as usual, have got themselves into a hole early in the tournament by losing to a minnow team. What happened in that match often happens with Indians. To put it simply, India went wrong in basics. The cricketing basics were simple; bowl straight, close to the batsman, get a little bit of swing and field well. Indians went wrong in these basics while trying more esoteric ideas and experiements.
Importance of "Basics"
While Srinath discovered this fundamental truth in final series, yours truely has discovered this a long while ago. (If only the cricket team would ask me). Yet the question remains if I have discovered the "basics" related to my work. Frankly, I am not sure! As apalling as it sounds, I am not alone. Almost everyone knows only a part of the real basics required in the job. So how can we ensure that we get out basics right everytime.

Know the basics
It is not so simple as it sounds. We almost never know what are our employers basic expectations from us. This is primarily because the expectations keep changing often and we are not informed as frequently. Unfortunately we never take the initiative to ask! Also it is important to ask often enough.

All basics Right All the time
I often found myself incorporating too many "experiments" into my project work. These take up lot of monitoring, focus and therefore energy. This induces a loss of foucs on basics. I have found an easier way by limiting "experiements" and giving adequate focus on basics.

Find an "articulate" mentor!
Often the immediate supervisors may not be able to help us. We need to find enough people who can give us the organisational view-point and explain the changes in the role expected of us. I really have never found mentors who can articulate "basics" (thats "spoon-feeding"!), but the perspective really have helped me in getting closer to what are the base level deliverables.

It has been a learning process for me till today. I believe I havent even scratched the surface. Feel free to let me know the secret if you have found it already!