The automotive industry is undergoing a dramatic transformation that will forever change the ways we purchase and operate motor vehicles. Analysts predict that as early as 2030, or just a little bit more than eleven years from now, the highways of America will be dominated by driver-less, electric cars, and that most cars will be rented on an as-needed basis. Gone will be the days of automobile ownership as we know it today.
Meanwhile, technology is already enabling a vast array of incredible new functionality, from global positioning functionality to automated parallel parking to crash avoidance. It’s an amazing time to be alive, to witness the application and implementation of space aged technology to every day transportation.
But for all the “hits” in this technological boom, there have been a few failures and “misses.” In this, the first in a series of closer looks, I examine a couple of these little known failures.
Off on the Wrong Foot
In November of 2014, Ford issued a memo announcing its driver-less car research project. Regrettably, the memo included a minor typo on the subject line, wherethe letter “r” was omitted from the word “driver.” This seemingly innocuousmistake went unnoticed by most of the press, but didn’t escape the attention of a salesman in the Ford dealership in Secaucus, New Jersey, named Bud Schwartz,who was the principle named in a law suit by Olympic champion Greg Louganis. In a sworn affidavit, Louganis claimed that Schwartz cited the memo as a reason to prevent Louganis’ attempt to purchase a 1987 Taurus. “See, right here,”Schwartz said, holding up a copy of the memo, “it says, ‘Announcing Ford’s ‘diver-less policy,’ so I got it right here, in writing. As for Louganis and his suit, he can go jump in the lake.”
Ford and Louganis arrived at a six figure settlement, and the “driver-less” project was delayed by a month. The author of the memo, an intern named Carl Iguana, held onto his job when his HR rep, Samantha Herbivore, mistyped the word “fired” in Iguana’s dismissal memo. Iguana’s job was spared, but he barely survived being fried in corn oil.
This was a feature proposed and evaluated by General Motors. It consisted of a retractable bowl that, upon pushing a button on the dashboard, would slide out. The driver would take a bowl of cold soup and empty it into the retractable bowl, and insert it much like one inserts a CD into a CD player. Infrared sensors placed behind the dashboard would then heat the soup up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the warmer would beep and “eject” the soup. The warmer was actually installed and tested in a handful of vehicles, but failed when the eject button proved to be a bit too strong, flinging scalding hot soup into the face of the driver, causing him to become inattentive and thus a safety concern. Greg Llama, the engineer who first conceived of the soup warmer, down played the test results, saying “so what you might get a little bit of soup in your eye – to me, it’d be worth it. How many times do you find yourself driving down the highway on a cold day when all of the sudden, it occurs to you how good a bowl of clam chowder would be right at that moment. But no, you don’t have time to stop at the local diner, because you’re on your way to the foam rubber convention, and you’re the keynote speaker and you’re running late. If you’re anything like me, that happens all the time!”
Although they’ve saved millions of lives, safety issues with air bags continue to be a concern. Suffocation, claustrophobic panic attacks, head and neck injuries, arm and chest fractures, have all been issues. GM engineer Walt Toast proposed and designed an alternative. Like the current airbags,Toast’s design had bags deploying on impact, but the bags would be filled with shards of broken glass instead of air. “Of course they’d be worse than air-bags,” he replied to concerns about the harm his design could inflict. “Oh, the poor babies have a fractured arm, we’ll fix that, how about getting your throat cut? How’d they like that?”
Amazingly, Toast’s design was approved for testing, but after killing three testers, the project was put on delay due to budgetary issues. Two years later, it was officially cancelled when Toast was diagnosed as a psychotic after admitting to mailing a powdery substance to bankruptcy attorney Peter Francis Geraci. Public health officials first identified the substance as a rare and lethal strain of Anthrax until further testing concluded that it was actually a table spoon of Nestles Quick. Toast was institutionalized on the basis of an obscure law that, to protect public safety, demands that anyone who supplies a bankruptcy lawyer with chocolate milk must be separated from the rest of society.
The Grableizer 2020 Cicada Detector
Mandated to be implemented in all vehicles beginning in the year 2020, this feature is from the mind of the brilliant inventor Joe Grabchinski. When the vehicle hits a speed of 59 degrees, it will begin emitting high-pitched and loud, ear shattering sounds mimicking the mating calls of all Cicadoidea, thus attracting all forms of cicadas from as far away as five miles to the vehicle. When asked why, Grabchinski only replied, “If I have to explainit to you …”