Technicalities | Wrong way


America's romance with the automobile is an oft-told tale ' the freedom and possibilities of the road as one slices down the highway in control of one's own destiny, tail fins gleaming in the sun. Is information technology taking that away? Nowadays, we have cars that park themselves. Cars that never get lost. Cars that tell you where to go, how fast you'll get there, where to turn and when to stop. In short, cars that are their own backseat drivers.

Now comes another step in the slow march away from self-determination. Inilex offers the Vehicular Interface Module platform, which lets users track and control their cars. ViM connects with a car's onboard computer and provides access via a cell phone or Internet connection. You can remotely start it up, set its alarm or disable the engine. You can turn on the heat or air conditioning before you get in the car. You can track its location and speed via the Global Positioning System. The car can even send you a text message when it's low on oil.

ViM has its benefits. It could do a lot to prevent auto theft. A car that can notify its owner of its movements and location, which could be passed on to police, would give thieves pause. It can also let parents keep track of teenagers' movements, although some members of the household might disagree on whether this is a benefit.

But do we really need a car that sends text messages with information you can get from the dashboard? Do we want to lose the character-building experience of gripping a burning steering wheel until a car cools off or the satisfaction of a well-done parallel parking job? Some people used to think of cars as part of the family. Soon, they'll be just one more node on the network.


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