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From the chair: June 2017

publication date: Jun 1, 2017
author/source: Robin Roberts


It’s been an interesting month in May with impressive and not so impressive new technology making itself felt.

To start with, or not as the case proved, a remote key-fob decided to go off-grid and not work, fortunately leaving me stranded no further than from my front door.

Dig out standby fob, click and…. nothing happened. Two dud fobs, one locked Subaru car and a puzzled driver.

It could have been worse but for the AA Patrol who turned up very quickly, but was slower sorting it as it also puzzled him. One fob was completely dead, reported Patrol Paul, and the other worked, but only in the confines of his van. Back by the car, it didn’t. Back in the van it did.

Call for back up in the shape of a computer mounted in Paul’s patrol van produced a range of possible scenarios and he patiently ploughed his way through pages of ifs, buts and maybes.

A get-going guide was found and it worked, but the actual process must remain confidential in case a crook is reading this, and it needed several things to happen in a specific order.

I raised the question of what had happened and Paul’s worldly-wise words were informative. Seems a ‘dead’ fob can covertly try to charge itself from the live fob in the vicinity thereby draining the good one; security light sensors can interfere and confuse the fob and even the light going on and off a few times will make the fob shut down. Oh and your mobile may also be to blame if its close to the fob.

It’s all much worse if the fob’s battery is very low but happily with engine started it was off to the main dealer for a check and change of batteries in the two fobs.

They tested the system and said it may need recalibrating or, at worse, a new transponder control, but in the end it was just down to two new batteries, took 15mins and all was well.

That was a cheaper move than a friend who couldn’t because his BMW X5’s electronic handbrake decided to lock on and left him miles from home. The days of a simple ratchet lever, some cables and drum brakes are long gone and instead the unit which sits underneath that electric button on your console comprises actuators and a software chip which senses movement.

There’s an emergency method to release the locked brake but, as in this case, if it doesn’t work it’s a lift recovery to a garage, a unit strip down and if you’re unlucky as my friend was, a bill for between £500 and £900 to replace the unit and software. His vehicle was also off road for over a week while the part was sourced and fitted.

If you think that is bad, pity the mechanic who was replacing a handbrake unit – obviously the season for such things – only for all the vehicle’s airbags to go off at a cost £9,000 interior replacements, and no-one can say how that happened.

Even if you keep going there is no guarantee it will be safe for you. Three new cars driven in the last month had the latest mapping technology but each displayed outdated speed limits on particular roads, together with false alarms for speed cameras that no longer exist.

My standard test of using an old house number to set as home also fooled them and showed the basic data is at least 25 years old and not updated.

Which leads me to wonder what reliance we can place on the accuracy and safety of autonomous vehicles? Left to the systems, if you can get into them and move off, will they take you at legal speed to a destination which actually exists?

Which must all be considered against the best part of the month when I had my first experience of the Hyundai Ioniq Blue Hybrid which never went below 62mpg. Oddly this has a US style foot operated parking brake, so it was a case of hold on with the old and ease off with the new.

See you at DD2017 next week. 

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