A Touchy Subject Matt 21. January, 2016 Cheap Ramblings If you have an interest in tech you are probably aware of the spectacular failure of Europe’s biggest ever Kickstarter project, the Zano drone, which promised the Earth and failed to deliver so much as an asteroid. Hands have been wrung, teeth gnashed and wails wailed. Kickstarter has received a huge wave of negative publicity despite Seattle-based tech writer Mark Harris, who spent six weeks on the ground in South Wales where the Zano was developed and produced a report that runs into 13,000 words, concluding that it was simply bad management by the directors that led, ultimately, to the failure. As with all innovations, some will fly and some will tank. There used to be two formats for VCRs. Big bulky tapes went into machines that recorded the TV shows you didn’t like and then played them while you were out. One was VHS, the other Betamax. Barring recording time Betamax was superior in every measurable way but then the US porn industry adopted VHS as their standard and, ironically, its rival got tossed. This will continue to happen until long after you or I have gone the way of the LaserDisc or the Zip Drive. One remaining constant will be the early adopters who toss a coin and make the wrong choice. The difference is that today, thanks to Kickstarter and its cousins, they can throw their money away sooner and end up with zip, minus the drive. Happily the internet and its related industries, while delivering some staggering failures, have also given us commercial success stories that couldn’t have been imagined even a generation ago. If we are to believe the PR then the Gates and Zuckerbergs of this world are using their wealth as a force for good, alleviating poverty, homelessness and providing opportunity and education for thousands who would otherwise fall by the wayside. More visibly the likes of Google are deploying their riches to further mankind as a whole. There is even a little company, which developed a universal internet payment system, that is starting to make a few waves here and there. Yes, PayPal, and its co-founder Elon Musk. OK so his name might sound like one of those pheromone-based colognes that are supposed to attract supermodels at a range of 50 miles, and when he opens his mouth in public fridge-monkeys fly out, but you have to hand it to the guy, when it comes to cool ways of splashing the cash his violet isn’t shrinking, it’s ultra. His Space X corporation has achieved as much in a decade or so than the US and Russia combined did in the previous half century and launch footage depicts staff relaxed in jeans and T-shirts who adore what they do. Poles apart from the buttoned-up, crew-cut guys who oversaw the moon landings, they’ve even given us the best corporate-speak ever coined for a failure, the RUD – Rapid Unexpected Disassembly. They’re deadly serious and tongue in cheek all at the same time. His next big thing is the Hyperloop, a transportation system that will fire people and things along a tube in a near vacuum, like the fat German kid in Willy Wonka, only at 600 mph and with a drinks trolley. Musk also gave us Tesla, named for one of the coolest scientists ever, so cool he was portrayed on film by David Bowie. This is the car company that seems determined to beat the odds and give us an electric car that works. At a price at least. The recently launched Model S has a base price in the UK of a whisker over £50k but spec it up to acceptable levels and you’re north of eighty grand. Is it worth it? The established motoring press seems to think so, falling over themselves like dominoes to lavish praise on it in ways that would make an Oscar acceptance speech seem restrained. In many ways I agree; it’s a good looking thing, and if reports are to be believed it accelerates faster than a cliché. Overtaking manoeuvres are dispatched with no more effort than if you could separate the traffic in front of you into its component molecules and scatter it to the four winds with a wave of the hand. For its abilities I could even forgive the interior, which isn’t even on a par with a Hyundai costing less than half the price. I do have one serious gripe. All flippancy aside this is a big one, one that has been afflicting all luxury car makers for some time but in this case is by far the worst offender. The touch screen. It’s shocking. And worse, it’s potentially lethal! For a start it’s out of proportion. At 17” it dwarfs that of my MacBook Pro and dominates the dashboard in ways that bloke from 50 Shades could only dream of. It’s about as appropriate as smothering sashimi with salad cream or giving the Queen a spray tan and a leopard print mini dress. The looks, however, aren’t the main issue. For years we have had dashboards with buttons, dials, knobs and switches. They were analogue; after a short time we could operate them by feel, our eyes and the majority of our focus on the road ahead. I need only to glance down briefly in my daily driver to remind myself where my finger needs to go to warm my feet rather than blow dry my hair but then my eyes are looking ahead again and making sure I don’t crash. Tesla has put all the major interior functions of the Model S into the touchscreen. Now you might argue that these days people who have the money to buy one of these will be familiar with smartphones and this won’t present a problem. But imagine this; you are in a forest, at night, waiting for Mountain Rescue. To pass the time you take out your phone to play Cross Penguins or whatever it’s called. Now imagine your saviours have arrived but you need to get to a clearing 400 yards away. In under 5 minutes. In the dark. Are you going to carry on playing while sprinting through the woods? No, of course you aren’t. You would be seconds away from a concussion. In a car, robbed of tactile controls that permit you to use muscle memory and basic recall, your attention could be glued to that screen, not for fractions of a second but chunks of a minute. At highway speeds you could travel half a mile. Or fail to…. One of the other things the new Tesla has been praised for is its performance in US safety tests. Apparently it has done significantly better than any other car ever, so much so that in some cases it broke the rigs that were used to test it. If my suspicions are correct then it needs to, because thanks to that touchscreen the new Tesla could just be an accident looking for somewhere to happen. Related Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.