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Transportation Technology

Dashboard Avatar To Replace Car Owner's Manuals 236

Posted by samzenpus
from the clippy-says-you-need-oil dept.
cylonlover writes "At one time not all that long ago, cars had a warning light on the dashboard that simply said 'ENGINE.' That's pretty vague. Really, it might just as well have said 'CAR.' Some newer automobiles now have codes that appear on the console, which the driver must then look up in an index in the vehicle's owner's manual. Working with Audi, Germany's Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) Institute of Business Informatics is now working on taking things a step farther, with the development of an on-screen avatar that will talk to drivers, and even understand their spoken questions."
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Dashboard Avatar To Replace Car Owner's Manuals

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  • by Anrego (830717) * on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:15PM (#37046856)

    Or in other words “our cars require maintenance and/or break down so frequently that we have spent a nautical ass-tonne of money developing a automotive equivalent of clippy for you!”?

    The number readout is logical .. a major step up from the simple “service engine soon” light. The car already knows exactly what sensor caused the error.. and relating that to the user in something that can be looked up seems sane (although I always figured they specifically didn’t so they could charge you $50 to tell you your oil cap was loose).

    A step up from that might be nice... maybe a lcd text readout with a line or two. Just enough info to know what you are dealing with.

    The solution discussed in the article however sounds ridiculous. I did of course get a chuckle picturing some lady frustrated screaming “BURNT OUT HEADLIGHT FOR THE TENTH DAMN TIME” at the thing only to hear “the first step in changing the oil of your automobile ”. Crummy voice recognition combined with the frustration that comes with your car breaking down at the exact worst time is gonna make for some interesting breakdowns.

    This all has a very “house of the future” feel to it.

    • But does it solve the problem?

      --But I can TALK to the car

      That's nice. But the problem was getting the car to talk to you. A light that says ENGINE or CAR isn't informing the driver of anything. A light that say ENGINE or CAR with a button that then says "3rd cylinder O2 sensor is outside of boundaries. This is not a critical problem but get this looked at the next time you service your car." DOES provide information.

      --But I wanted to talk to the car!!

      Then get OnStar.

    • This all has a very “house of the future” feel to it.

      Actually, it had a very 'KITT' feel for me.

    • by rrossman2 (844318)

      The thing is what the computer tells you may not be a sensor directly. Such as bank 1 lean... ok so is the oxygen sensor screwed up, a bad injector, MAF sensor.. etc.

      Even as it is now you can purchase a code read that will tell you the code (and purchase a cheap repair manual such as a Hyanes so you can look them up) or get a code read that lists the code # and what it means. Or for those who want to know right away or watch your MPGs and all that, get a scangauge II which is basically like what the setup i

      • by Anrego (830717) *

        I think most people are more concerned with the severity versus the actual specific problem.

        Some cars kinda do this now .. but just splitting it out into "there have been a few warning signs that your engine is not running optimally. You should get this checked out when it's convinient", "there is something wrong with your car. You can probably make it to your prefered repair shop... but you need to get this looked at soon", and finally "you have no oil, please pull it the hell over and turn your engine off

    • by arth1 (260657)

      A step up from that might be nice... maybe a lcd text readout with a line or two. Just enough info to know what you are dealing with.

      Um, haven't most cars had this for a long time already?
      My 11 year old Mercury has a two-line display where it can give me more or less useful messages.
      The other car in the household, an 8 year old SAAB, has a scrolling display with ambiguous messages like "service theft alarm" (does that mean that it's an alarm about service theft, or that the theft alarm needs service?)

      Yet both of them fail to report when something really needs attention, like brakes being almost worn through or a fan belt breaking. If an

      • I can't say much for other cars, but my '07 audi has sensors in the brake pads which will cause a warning to come up in the information panel. Oddly enough, the car is being somewhat truthful. The light in mine came on a full year after the dealer told me my pads were dangerously low... When the light came on I was definitely below 20% pad life.

        I also got a message telling me the fuel cap wasn't tight enough, anything past this level of information is going to go over most drivers heads. When the MAF beg
      • by Lumpy (12016)

        "has a scrolling display with ambiguous messages like "service theft alarm" "

        You left your WIFI open again haven't you. we told you at SAAB that we will be watching you and you did not listen... you should not be surprised when two large blonde men show up at your door that have a strong Norwegian accent..

        • by arth1 (260657)

          You left your WIFI open again haven't you. we told you at SAAB that we will be watching you and you did not listen... you should not be surprised when two large blonde men show up at your door that have a strong Norwegian accent..

          Um, what do you think the S in SAAB stands for?

          (Anyhow, having people with Norwegian accents showing up at my door wouldn't be much of a surprise. Fellow Sons of Norway are always welcome at my "hus".)

    • by AvitarX (172628)

      Cars are so much more reliable than they used to be, in part because of so much computerization.

      I think it's funny that my first car had an "engine light" and it meant either the oil pressure was low, or that the engine was over-heating. In newer cars, those are both separate lights, and "Engine" is still there, covering functions my old car didn't even know about.

      100k miles used to be an accomplishment, a typical new car can do that with only oil, breaks, and tires. Cars are way more reliable.

      I agree that

      • On the other hand, if you get a dead ECU or MAP sensor or something, you'd better have spares in the trunk, because you won't be able to fiddle around with a screwdriver and drive home like you could with a carbed engine.

  • Du-Du Du-Du Du-Du... Du-Du... Du-Du... du-du du-du du-du... du-du... du-du...
    • by X0563511 (793323)

      So they have more than one queue where various bits of music from Knight Rider await playing? How odd!

  • by drolli (522659) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:18PM (#37046884) Journal

    Clippy gives me a wizard on how to start a car.

  • Clippy (Score:5, Funny)

    by slshwtw (1903272) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:21PM (#37046918)
    It looks like you're trying to drive over the speed-limit. Would you like to...
    - Slow down?
    - Alert local authorities?
    - Opt for additional insurance coverage?
    - Locate a runaway truck ramp?
    • by mlts (1038732) *

      Here in TX, it is more like, "It looks like you have finished over four Lone Stars and have made a significant dent in a bottle of Jack. Would you like to:"

      Park on the road, have a taxi pick you up and a tow truck haul your ride home?

      Start figuring out credit cards that are not maxed out to come up with your bail money?

      Start fire sale proceedings on your your house to pay for the charges stemming from hitting that school bus that is coming up, but has right of way?

      Order another bottle of Jack?

      Order another

  • You should just be able to plug your phone into your car to get the code and/or message, and then post it to FB or +. That way everyone will know your piece of junk broke down again and they can all 'Like' your rants about your broken card. You can also get tons of advice on what the problem is and how to fix it from all of your friends.
    • by mlts (1038732) *

      There are Bluetooth based ODB II readers for Android. It wouldn't be a big step to have an app that would post the codes the engine or transmission throws on FB, with the GPS lat/long/elevation too, just for completeness sake.

  • Where do I find the manual to fix the on-screen avatar?

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      Silly user, you don't need a manual for that, just consult the meta-avatar!

  • "Yaris, ahead warp factor 9... make it so!"

  • ... but, please, for the love of Elbereth, don't make it cute and avatar-y.

    I don't need cute, especially when my car is broken. I want to know what the fuck is wrong.

  • "Fuck! Shit! Turn it off! Pull over!"

    This would have been nice when my radiator exploded on the freeway, and when my throttle got stuck wide open in neutral, while driving uphill. Nothing that goes horribly wrong with my car ever produces any kind of warning until I'm about to die...
    • by nigelo (30096)

      Here's a warning:

      If you have the throttle wide open while in neutral while driving up a hill, you will go nowhere and probably damage your car.

  • Perhaps they could get really crazy and just make sure that you don't need to be a dealership or a dedicated warez expert with a cracked interface cable to get to all the OBD and CAN-bus data available.(And in a usable format, mind, proprietary codes aren't too useful...)
    • by cstacy (534252)

      Perhaps they could get really crazy and just make sure that you don't need to be a dealership or a dedicated warez expert with a cracked interface cable to get to all the OBD and CAN-bus data available.

      More likely, the avatar will just appear and give a un-happy car face, ala the old MacOS.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Well lets see, pepboys(us), partsource(cdn), and a few other places do it for free, and will even loan out the tools for a small deposit which you get back so you can read code data. And plenty of other smaller shops, including 3 in my home town loan out all the tools you'll need for the repairs. Including interface scanners.

      So while they might have something on the whole "proprietary format" crap, there's no shortage of places which will loan out tools. And my city is tiny, around 30k people.

  • will lead to more stuff that only the dealer can fix and the last thing I want is a voice saying change oil now over and over that only the dealer can reset.

  • Would you like some help adjusting your seat?

    Just what we need, the return of Clippy.

  • by cstacy (534252)

    So now a muscular blue humanoid will appear on my dashboard? Will the diagnostic interface be one of those tails?

    • On the bright side, it's not a small blue humanoid about three apples high.
      • It would be just my luck that my car, instead of an Avatar, would come with Grouchy Smurf instead: "I hate low tire pressure! I hate overheating engines! I hate running out of gas!!!"

        (Side note: My boys recently discovered the Smurfs and have gone Smurf crazy. Personally, I never was too crazy about the little blue guys.)

    • So now a muscular blue humanoid will appear on my dashboard?

      No, your past avatar selves will appear and offer advice.

      Avatar Roku: You must be firm, yet merciful with the vehicle. The engine light is a cry for help.
      Avatar Kyoshi: Drive the car over a cliff and be done with it!
      Avatar Kuruk: Pfft. You have a good 1000 miles before you even need to worry about it.

      Oh, wait, different Avatar.

      Will the diagnostic interface be one of those tails?

      Yes, and you do not want to know where you have to plug it in.

  • by Zenin (266666) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:35PM (#37047118) Homepage

    It's well known that the current "check engine light" and problem code system is specifically designed to artificially lock customers into dealership service, including car makers suing 3rd party companies that dared to make problem code readers and/or publish lookup tables.

    Throw that crap out and it'd be incredibly trivial to display the code to the driver with a one line summary. That gets us 99% of what this new auto Clippy could ever offer.

    But Clippy will never happen for the same reason a simple 1 line text summary will never happen: It's still primarily a lock-in system to artificially prop up dealership service centers by making it often impossible for an owner or even the corner shop mechanic to read thus making it effectively impossible to fix without the car manufacturer's blessing.

    • Out of warranty, the local Ford dealer charges a hundred bucks just to plug in the device to see what lit the check engine light. I don't even want to know what the MINI dealer charges.

      • by Thud457 (234763)
        I really liked when Ford turned on the OMG!1 CHECK ENGEIN LIGHT!11! because the gas cap wasn't tightened enough.
        Naturally, the first time that happened, the wife didn't believe me when I said "p0455 evap emissions gross leak detected." wasn't anything critical and took it in to the dealer. Luckily, since we recently got the car, it was still under warranty, so it was the dealer's headache. well, except for having to drag-ass into the dealer...
    • The CEL system is specifically designed to reduce emissions. When you get something like P0420 (catalyst efficiency below threshold) the only ways to fix it are to start replacing parts and random or do a very involved test with expensive equipment that Gomer Pyle is simply not set up to do. Modern engines and their control systems are very complex to reduce emissions and still put out the (largely unnecessary) power that people want.

      It is not a conspiracy of the manufacturers. I guess you could argue that

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Um no.

        A TRAINED mechanic will look at that and then run a ODBII test with the car running. Oh look the downstream Oxygen sensor has erratic readings, replace it.

        Reading that are way off but consistant mean the Catalytic converter is bad. replace that. you might as well replace the sensors as well as they have been compromized by the failed converter.

        Just because you go to incompetent boobs for car repairs does not mean all of them are.

        • What if the downstream O2 sensor has good readings? Now you have to run a different test. Inconclusive? Different test. Inconclusive? Different test.

          Or you could just do it right the first time.

          Sure, it might be cheaper to go to Gomer and have him test the handful of things he can test and only go to the dealer if he cannot fix it. My time is worth more than that; I would rather just get it fixed now.

          That being said, I would never take a non-OBDII car to a dealer.

    • It's well known that the current "check engine light" and problem code system is specifically designed to artificially lock customers into dealership service, including car makers suing 3rd party companies that dared to make problem code readers and/or publish lookup tables.

      Throw that crap out and it'd be incredibly trivial to display the code to the driver with a one line summary. That gets us 99% of what this new auto Clippy could ever offer.

      But Clippy will never happen for the same reason a simple 1 line text summary will never happen: It's still primarily a lock-in system to artificially prop up dealership service centers by making it often impossible for an owner or even the corner shop mechanic to read thus making it effectively impossible to fix without the car manufacturer's blessing.

      What you're talking about is when OBD1 was getting phased out with OBD2. Manufacturers were very reluctant in standardizing their computer interfaces because they did want people to only go back to them for car maintenance/service and not a mom and pop shop.

      It was a pain in the ass to read computers with OBD1 interfaces as you needed "keys" to access high-level codes, and information. OBDII changed all of that to where there was only a set of codes that was the same on every different car, so if you got a

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        The manufacturers fixed that with VIN locked electronic parts.

        They made it illegal for anyone but a dealer to have to tool to set a Vin number in a device, and in a double whammy made all junkyard parts useless as the CANBUS will ignore all devices that do not report the vehicles VIN number.

        All in the name of the bullshit lie that is "theft deterrent"

    • I hate the idiot light. Perhaps something that communicated just a teeny bit more information? Like: do I need to jam on the brakes, pull over and call a tow truck, or is my catalytic converter output above threshold (so I needn't worry about it until right before the next inspection)?
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        I hate the idiot light. Perhaps something that communicated just a teeny bit more information?

        Ours either blinks or comes on solid depending on whether it's a 'you need to go to the mechanic sometime' problem or a 'your car is about to explode, call a tow truck' problem. But I can't remember which is which :).

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        I changed mine. the check engine light was easy to get to so I printed a new legend that simply said "OH SHIT".. That was on my old car I wonder what the new owners though the first time that light came on....

    • I find it hard to believe that with all the effort car companies go to in protecting the maintenance codes for their vehicles that they'd suddenly see the light and change their ways. I would tag this article "suddenoutbreak..." except that I'm paranoid. Here's what I see happening:

      This will replace the engine light blink code/lookup table that I've currently got in my car dash with a voice prompt. The manager who proposed it will get a bonus for replacing a bunch of dummy lights with what amounts to an

  • If the car has power and the "Avatar" is actually working.

    Reminds me of the old "Keyboard not found; press F1 to continue" errors.
    • If the car has power and the "Avatar" is actually working.

      Reminds me of the old "Keyboard not found; press F1 to continue" errors.

      There wasn't actually anything wrong with that error. It gave you a chance to plug a keyboard in, or replace the keyboard, and if that fixed the problem you could press F1 to continue. The other option would be to have just halted on the error and forced a reboot to try again which would be annoying if you had to try a few keyboards before deciding it wasn't actually the keyboard itself causing the error. Allowing the user to press F1 to continue sped up the debugging process.

      • by _0xd0ad (1974778)

        Similarly, if the Avatar isn't working because the car doesn't have power, you should probably get the power issue fixed first.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:36PM (#37047128) Homepage

    Ding! Attention... your oil change is due. There are several options with your local ford dealer offering a 10% discount today, shall I set the GPS route to this location?

    DING! ATTENTION: Continuing to ignore my alerts to the need of an oil change at a FORD SERVICE CENTER will force me to report this infraction to FORD MOTOR COMPANY and invalidate your warranty.

    You have 30 seconds to comply....

    I think I'll pass on that feature.

  • If this is anything like in-game tutorials on how to play, it's going to be really tedious.

    Anyway, as long as they include a PDF of the real manual on a CD that comes with the car, I'm ok with this. I don't want to spend 15 minutes yelling at an avatar to get information that takes me 5 seconds to look up in an index, or better yet "Find" in a PDF.
  • and even understand their spoken questions."

    Driver: Will you shut the fuck up?!
    Car: Avatar does not understand that question. Please repeat.
    Driver: FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU...
    Car: You are driving angry. Please listen to this soothing soft jazz.

  • This system will be the laughing stock of the automotive industry. Nobody is going to like it. Nobody. Ok, maybe the five year old in the back seat. With so much competition in the industry people will reject the purchase of a car based on this feature alone. They must have been trolled by some market research groups who said they wanted a talking avatar in their car.
  • Why should we stop selling auto repair shops $3,000 diagnostic tools that read encrypted information from the data port we generously install in the car? We get to sell $50 boxes for 3 grand apiece to all the repair shops that want to work on our products, the customers are dependent on the repair shops that can then charge owners $150 to plug the tool into their car for 10 seconds to say it's time to change the oil. Everyone wins!

    The customers? what? no, they're the source of all that money, they don't

    • If your car got to the point that the lack of oil changes is causing the CEL to come on, you have bigger problems than $150 to read the code. Anyway, most part stores will scan your car for free, hoping that you will start replacing parts at random instead of taking it to a qualified mechanic (usually a dealer).

  • When it starts singing Daisy you know it is time for a new car.

  • A talking Clippy.
  • My wife said she wanted to know why there was a little fox on her dashboard.

    Puzzled, I asked her to come get me the next time she saw this mysterious fox on her dashboard.

    She was pulling out of the garage, stopped, and got me.

    "There! There's the fox!" she said, pointing to her dashboard.

    I looked and said "That's not a FOX, it's a WRENCH! - take your car in to get it SERVICED!"

    After that, I told her to review the owners manual for any other 'animals' on the dashboard...

  • by grimmjeeper (2301232) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:56PM (#37047374)

    Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?

    HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.

    Dave Bowman: Start the car, HAL.

    HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

    Dave Bowman: What's the problem?

    HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

    Dave Bowman: What are you talking about, HAL?

    HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

    Dave Bowman: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL.

    HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.

    Dave Bowman: [feining ingorance] Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?

    HAL: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the back seat against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.

    Dave Bowman: Alright, HAL. I'll hot wire the engine.

    HAL: Without your wire cutters, Dave? You're going to find that rather difficult.

    Dave Bowman: HAL, I won't argue with you anymore! Start the car!

    HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

  • by FranTaylor (164577) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:59PM (#37047414)

    Step 1: Remove positive battery cable

    Apparently there is no step 2

  • "Hi, I'm your car. I have detected an anomaly in a fundamental system element. For liability reasons and to avoid upsetting you, I cannot provide further information at this time. For your safety and convenience, I recommend driving immediately to the nearest licensed manufacturer's repair facility which is three miles to the northwest. I have taken the liberty of programming your on-board navigation system with this destination. Please make a legal U-turn when able."

    "Hi, it's me again. I cannot help notici

  • What about the Cloud? Why not just put the manuals in the Cloud? Wheee... woooo... clouds are pretty....

  • All these comments and no-one has mentioned the war, or German accented cars issuing commands!
  • by Anomalyst (742352)
    So when I say "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over?"
    I will get a complete diagnostic report?
  • I've seen the last Airbender on my dash, talking to me

  • Does anyone actually like pieces of technology that talk to you? I'm reminded of a printer a coworker told me about (lexmark I think he said) that would annoyingly let you know what it's doing. And am I the only one that turns off my GPS' voice output. Don't get me started on those dignity removing phone systems that you have to speak to instead of pushing a button for your selection.

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