SpeakEasy

Carvolution

By MARC LIPMAN | Apr 10, 2019

The automobile is one of the key inventions in our society. Since we have known it all our lives, we can remember how much it has changed if we think about it a little. Since the time it was first available to the public in mass quantities, it has gone through an extensive amount of innovative improvements.

The 2.9-liter engine of the Model T produced about 20 horsepower and got between 13 and 21 miles per gallon. Current car engines produce anywhere from 90 horsepower to over 500 horsepower. A typical modern car gets 30 to 35 miles per gallon on a 135-horsepower, 1.8-liter engine.

Tires on the cars of the 1930s and ’40s were not at all reliable; blowouts were common – and there was no AAA. Even cars of the ’60s would get less than 25,000 miles on their set of tires.

Now over 60,000 miles is not uncommon for even the average tire. Special rubber blends are also available. (Mine have a special magnetic powder blended in so they will attract any nails that happen to be nearby!)

Even the steering wheel has evolved. In the cars I grew up with, the steering wheel was for steering, with the only added item the horn button. Now the steering wheel contains an air bag (an important and needed item), controls for the music system and a button so I can talk to my car (it is about the only thing that listens to me).

The lifetime of a car has increased threefold. When I first started thinking seriously about cars as a teenager (don’t all teenagers think about cars?), getting 10,000 miles on a car was a wonderful achievement. If the brakes were bad, you didn’t have to worry. You could put your foot through the floorboards to stop the car. Now we get a new car so the whole family can use Wi-Fi at the same time.

Currently, elaborate sound systems are standard, and most minivans come with one or more video screens. When you go on a long trip, the rest of the family can be entertained the whole way. When I was a young father I had to think of innovative ways to entertain the children, such as having them recite the car rules. (For those who don’t know about the car rules, they are the rules that keep children from poking each other, saying degrading things about each other, or infringing on each other’s space – the 6 inches in the middle of the seat was the neutral zone.)

But one item has not changed in all these years: the horn.

In spite of all the “improvements” that electronic devices have made over mechanical ones, the horn still remains as a piece of equipment that makes one sound at one volume.

A beep can mean:

“Look out, you’re pulling into my lane!”

“You can pull in front of me.”

“You’d better not pull in front of me!”

“Hi Charlie, it’s Bill.”

And there are many other possibilities.

Let’s get with it! Let’s use the capabilities that have been in cell phones for years. A cell phone ringer has volume levels. You can choose the tones or sounds it makes. You can even program the sound so you know who is calling you. (I set my mother-in-law’s sound to the funeral dirge).

Why not put those into an electronic car horn? Many things in the car can already be programmed by the owner. You can set your favorite music stations, the list of people to call, and much more. Let’s do the same for the horn.

Rather than have to take your hands off the wheel, you could simply say things like:

“Horn: Idiot ahead!”

“Horn: Have junior get his bicycle out of the way.”

A related capability would involve smartphones. All smartphones have GPS’s built into them (a requirement). Why doesn’t someone develop an app where you could set it when you leave your car at the mall somewhere and then it would tell you how to get back to it later?

And while we’re at it, why not use the same automobile technology that warns us if we are drifting into the next lane for something additional? The same type of sensors could say, “Arthur, get over onto your side of the seat!”

Marc Lipman lives in Green Brook, N.J., and Barnegat Light.

 

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