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Black Boxes Are Not About Safety But Liability - Yours

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is looking to put Event Data Recorders (EDR), also known as the Black Box, in to all new cars. The guise of safety is often touted as the reason for installing these devices and to prevent tampering with them but in reality it is all about liability, usually the driver's.

Black boxes are well known components in large vehicles or ones that transport many people. Airplanes, buses and trains come to mind. In the past, a black box was a rather expensive device. It needs to be protected and mechanical EDRs needed a lot of protection. Fully electronic EDRs fit at the end of the spectrum. They do need to be ruggedized but these days a single chip microcontroller could be an EDR storing lots of information. Actually, EDRs would be great for the electronics industry because they could take advantage of the latest technology. FRAM-based microcontrollers like Texas Instrument's MSP430 MSP430FR5739 and Fujitsu's MB95R203A (see FRAM Micro Targets Medical And Industrial Apps). These chips are designed to handle the regular updates to their non-volatile storage.

The latest technology also lends itself to distribute EDRs since the actual storage device is a single chip. The reason for consolidating an EDR is to make it easier to locate. It is no longer about protection because what used to be an expensive part is very cheap now.

The type of information that an EDR would gather is already available on the latest cars because of the load of electronics being employed. Speed, location, accelerator and brake status information are standard and even tire pressure is being sent wirelessly to the car's computer.

As noted, I think this is all about liability. It will benefit lawyers and insurance companies much more than most people although if you are on the receiving end of a high speed collision then the information these devices could provide would be invaluable.

Collisions are one area where I think these devices in personal vehicles would be worthwhile if access to the information was limited. There are moves to make this the case forcing police to obtain warrants to view the information. Others simply want the data to be generally available.

I am more concerned about the use of the information by others including insurance companies and car dealers or even the local police. These days real time information can be sent over cellular networks. Just imagine getting a notice on your screen that you just exceeded the speed limit, received a citation and that it was already paid via debit card. It is not far fetched to assume that this will not occur once the EDRs are standard fare. Even detached operation is possible if the maps in the GPS system include speed limit information.

I just finished up an article about all this convergence of computing power, sensor information and wireless connectivity. Communication between cars and local businesses are part of that discussion. Now you could get an advertisement when you receive your eticket from a laywer that wants to represent you in the trial.

I just finished up an article about all this convergence of computing power, sensor information and wireless connectivity. Communication between cars and local businesses are part of that discussion. Now you could get an advertisement when you receive your eticket from a laywer that wants to represent you in the trial.

The black boxes are already going in selectively. Two large insurers, Zurich and Royal & Sun Alliance, are supporting it. The boxes track speed, vehicle drive time, acceleration, and braking. The promise is lower rates. Progressive Insurance calls their product Snapshot.

So beware of putting in new technology simply because you can. It may come back to haunt you.

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