Thursday, July 14, 2011

MyIdeas - Graduated Brake Lights

Of all MyIdeas of the past, I may be most proud of this one because it speaks not only to technology but also to human interaction as a critical component of the social phenomenon of driving in traffic.

The idea is this - when driving in traffic, when people just rest their foot on the brake pedal, their brake lights turn fully on, and when they remove their foot, the brake lights turn off. There's no in-between, even though there are several degrees of urgency between just coasting without slowing down significantly and jamming on the brakes to avoid an imminent collision.

With this "all or nothing" approach to brake lights, people can get hypnotized into not paying close enough attention. If traffic demands that people are regularly slowing down and then accelerating again, the sight of brake lights in front of me doesn't trigger the "stop" message, and if my attention is distracted by other sights on the road, for whatever reason, and the vehicle in front does come to a dead stop, I might not pick up on it having been lulled by seeing the same brake light a dozen times in the last five minutes that was hardly worth noticing, and that's when I end up in the trunk of the vehicle in front of me.

So, I came to realize that a solution is for the brake lights to be more communicative, and imagined a system whereby
  • if my take my foot off the gas pedal, a less-intense "coaster" brake light comes on, say of orange colour (not to be confused with a single side turn indicator). This way, the vehicle behind can see that the vehicle ahead is "slowing" but not necessarily "stopping."
  • if my foot does land on the brake pedal, the amber turns to a flashing orange
  • if I press the brake pedal, the full red comes on.
The exact nature of these three stages, colours and other behaviours (flashing or pulsing or linearly alternating LED bulbs or whatever) would be ironed out to some standardization (like the application of the 3rd brake light, which was a great idea that had nothing to do with me, and the world is chock full of those), as well as how to manage the coaster brake with cruise control (of which I'm not a fan). However it would actually work, the idea was for the brakes to more dynamically reflect the various attitudes of a vehicle between full forward motion and full stopping, to increase the brake vocabulary to engage more driver communication.

So, that was my idea, and I had it some time in 1990 or 1991, when I did the shoulder-veer to avoid the vehicle in front of me.

BMW introduced their "Adaptive braking" in 2007, using a two-stage approach with a regular brake light under normal braking and a flashing brake light under emergency braking (reminding me that, sometimes, when traffic stops suddenly, I do hit my hazard lights to bring extra attention to the vehicle behind me, usually when the vehicle in front of me veers onto the shoulder while braking to avoid hitting the vehicle in front, we've seen or even done this at least once in our driving career).

Mercedes-Benz has also offered its interpretation of the technology using the same name (apparently the name has been accepted as the industry standard for those manufacturers who'll implement it in their model line up). And, there may be still more manufacturers bringing some form of this system to market. It's a good idea.

BMW captions it as "communicating safety," which is a perfect way to capture the beauty, the essence of this technology.

Hopefully, like the 3rd brake light, graduated/adaptive braking will become standard throughout manufacturer line ups (I just wish they hadn't settled on "adaptive" since we already have am "ABS acronym" (for anti-lock braking system).

I blame me - if I'd figured out a way to come to market before BMW, I could have marketed it my way and had first crack at giving it a new name, like GBS for Graduated Braking System.

Yeah, I know, " you snooze, you lose", but if this is adopted across make and model line ups, I think everyone wins.

In closing the historical portion of this MyIdeas series, I'd just like to mention that not a few of these anecdotes came from "me and J" memories. While he doesn't get to write for the blog frequently, he's an integral part of the DNA of J&D's Auto Talk (funny thing is, he seems to think he doesn't write well, but when you read his posts, you know he writes just fine, and should do it more...but that's just me.)

J will tell me "it's all you, man", but I still tend to say "we" before "I". Labelling this series with "MyIdeas" as opposed to "OurIdeas" is an attempt to acknowledge his encouragement but, regardless the name of the series, it's clear there'd be no J&D's Auto Talk, and likely far fewer MyIDeas, without J.

Anyway, thus have we arrived at the end of this mini-series, to date. What's next? Taking action on my newest idea, the lightbulb for which went off over my head last week. And, whaddya know, I just remembered another long-lost idea that remains not done (J actually shot this one down, but that's constructive) so I may yet come to market first with one of MyIdeas. And if I am finally able to figure it out, then that first one that comes to market will become my proudest idea, because it'll be the one that actually got to market.Stay tuned, this ought to be good.

Bonus - this additional idea is neither a "product" nor a "technology", but a new business model for the auto industry.

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