In light of the Frankfurt auto show this week, let’s give German professor Wilhelm Schickard his due.
Schickard invented what’s considered the first calculator -- clearly a much-needed technology.
In contrast, some of today’s technology is unneeded and, in some cases, more hindrance than helpful.
Case in point: Honda’s LaneWatch technology.
LaneWatch provides a broader view of the passenger-side roadway on the center navigation screen when the right-turn signal is engaged or the LaneWatch button is pressed. The display can show cars from one or two lanes to the right and cars up to 50 yards behind the vehicle.
Theory vs. reality
In theory, it is meant to alert drivers to objects in their blind spot.
In reality, it is distracting.
Let me be clear: my problem is not with the technology per se -- even though I believe it’s actually unnecessary (more on that later) -- but rather the execution of it.
I recently test drove a 2016 Honda HR-V small crossover equipped with LaneWatch. When the side views popped up on the center navigation screen, it felt like over stimulation. I was being invited to look down at a center screen, while trying to look out the passenger windows and check the side mirror, even as I continued driving and looking out the front windshield. All this, while trusting my gut about my surroundings from 30 years of driving.
I tried to get accustomed to LaneWatch. But by the next morning, I was using the turn signal as briefly as possible to prevent LaneWatch from popping on. That’s not good if it deters drivers from signaling. And it could do just that because it also interrupts the driver’s ability to change the radio station. The audio controls are on the navigation screen.
So here’s an idea: What if Honda had LaneWatch appear on a front-mount display instead of the center console? That might be less distracting and safer by keeping drivers’ eyes focused longer on the roadway.
Other automakers offer blind spot detection on their vehicles. Those systems are based on radar to alert the driver to an object in the blind spot, often with a beep or a light on the side mirror. That’s less distracting than LaneWatch in its current implementation.
But in the end, none of it is necessary if people learned how to properly set their side mirrors. The vast majority of drivers position their side mirrors so that the field of vision overlaps with the rear view mirror. If you can see your own vehicle in any part of the sideview mirrors, then the mirrors are set improperly, experts say.
There are dozens of websites and YouTube videos showing drivers how to correctly adjust and set side mirrors so as to completely negate blind spots.
And herein lies an opportunity for dealers. They can teach their customers the proper settings for the mirrors, thus saving the customers thousands on costly and unnecessary technology and they're winning loyalty and satisfaction points in the process.
Of course, Honda salespeople are unlikely to tell their customers they don’t need this technology. Why badmouth your own products? But dealership personnel at other brands could score points by explaining how to keep it simple.