Hackaday Links: October 16, 2022

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Be careful where your take your iPhone 14 or Apple Watch, because under the right circumstances, you might end up swatting yourself. At least that’s what seems to have happened to some owners when their device’s crash detection feature interpreted a roller coaster ride as a car crash, and dialed emergency services. Crash detection is apparently set up to make the call automatically when accelerometers detect the high g-forces that normally occur in a crash, but can also occur on a coaster ride — at least the good one. In at least one case, an ersatz call to 911 was accompanied by the screams of fellow coaster riders, as the service apparently opens the device’s microphone when a crash is detected.

Hilarity ensued, of course, as long as you weren’t someone with a legit emergency who experienced a delayed response because of this. We’d have sworn that having a system auto-dial 911 was strictly illegal for just this reason, but apparently not. We guess there are two lessons here: one, that Apple engineers really should have thought this through, and maybe need to get out into the real world once in a while; and two, that people will gladly fork over their hard-earned dollars for the privilege of going on a fun ride that’s indistinguishable from a car crash. Our own Lewin Day took a close look at the situation earlier this week if you’d like to read more on the subject.

The reports of the death of film photography appear to have been somewhat exaggerated, with old-line photography company Kodak announcing that they can’t hire enough people to keep up with film demand. Kodak is reporting record consumer demand for its products, particularly for 35-mm film,  with consumers eager to exercise their old SLRs. Perhaps it’s a hipster fad, but if it is, it’s a good one for the Rochester, NY company, which moved from one shift five days a week a few years ago to three shifts around the clock. And they’re hiring more people for all their film operations, which is good news for the area. Things weren’t fantastic in Rochester when this particular Hackaday writer lived there in the early 90s, so it’s nice to see a resurgence. Might be time to dust off the old gear and support the one-time hometown again.

The solar system is filled with strange and wondrous sights, especially through a telescope. But pretty much every planet you can see with even a moderately powerful telescope gets a little boring after a while. So what’s the amateur astronomer who’s sick of staring at rocks and gasbags to do? Why, point that telescope at the Sun, of course, and in the process take some beautiful images of our star. David “Deddy” Dayag is a self-taught astronomer who has been bucking the conventional wisdom that solar photography is out of reach of the amateur. His time-lapse images are breathtaking, and show the fine structure of the convective cells on the Sun’s surface, in addition to sunspots, flares, and filaments. It’s remarkable stuff, all the more so for being made with fairly modest equipment.

And finally, great news for people who like to pay an optional extra tax to the State of California, where digital license plates are now legal for all vehicles. We’ve covered the E-ink license plates before, when the project was still in its pilot phase, and what seemed like a solution in search of a problem then still looks the same to us now that all Californians can participate. Renting the plates for $20 a month seems a steep price to pay for the novelty of being able to show custom, DMV-approved slogans and messages along with your car’s registration number. And we wonder what law enforcement thinks about losing the retro-reflective background that makes old-fashioned license plates so easy to read at night. We suppose that’s all academic at this point, and at least we can now look forward to a flood of large-format E-ink displays hitting the secondary market.

20 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: October 16, 2022

  1. Remember that there were once 42,000 employees at Kodak Park alone, to say nothing of Kodak office, the Elmgrove plant, Hawkeye, smaller facilities all over town, and numerous operations out of state. All the hipster nostalgia trips in the world aren’t gonna bring *that* back, but it is refreshing to hear some good news about our fallen giant for a change.

  2. I wonder what happens when you take an E-ink licensed California vehicle out of state. Maybe it is all fine unless you try to drive it after sunset.

    I also wonder what happens when you go try to find a place to get your freshly minted Kodachrome processed. Maybe all those details have been worked out. Maybe.

      1. Nobody developed Kodachrome. I myself (i.e. me) developed Ektachrome on a few occasions. It was not worth the hassle. Black and white on the other hand ….. that was fun in its day.

      2. There was one place developing Kodachrome up through a few years ago, maybe a decade now. But their EPA waver ran out. Something about chromium and maybe cadmium in the rinse water, if I remember right.

  3. It turns out that Google Maps also implements crash detection. My wife and I were parked in a rental car last week. She set up our next destination in Google Maps on her iPhone 8 (so, not the Apple version), but had not yet hit start. The uncased phone slipped from her hand a bit higher than normal (perhaps 3 inches) into a plastic cup holder, then started the car. There was a loud warning tone which we initially thought was a burglar alarm, but I just caught a red progress bar showing on the screen. I said “I think you just triggered crash detection”. Sure enough, about 30 seconds later she got a call from the local 911 dispatcher saying they “received a report of crash, so you need assistance?”. Not good.

  4. Seems like a trivial solution to the roller coaster thing: just geofence amusement parks. It should take Apple ten minutes to do this.

    Yes, there are pop-up county fairs and stuff like that, but I imagine Disney and 6 Flags is 90% of the problem at least.

    1. Tom Nardi picked the real winner solution when we were talking about this on the Podcast: don’t do car-crash detection on your phone. Most modern cars have this feature anyway, and they have all the right info — airbags deployed, etc.

      The reason that you want Apple to know if you’ve crashed, instead of OnStar (or whichever) is…

      … that Apple wants to know.

      1. The real winner solution is avoiding these kinds of tings altogether.

        The reason that you want OnStar (or whichever) to know that you crashed is…

        … that OnStar wants to know.

        Lets be real. OnStar doesn’t need to collect my data any more than Apple and both are MASSIVELY less likely to save one life than negatively effect millions.

      2. Except for one tiny detail. Not all will call the authorities; no Onstar or the like and as much as this forum makes about privacy, most will not (the subscription model too).

    2. A hard enough slip and fall in the shower while wearing an Apple Watch work too. After I went down, I was too distracted to notice that it was offering to call 911. My son answered the door a few minutes later to find the fire department responding to my automated call for assistance. I suppose this is a borderline intended use case.

  5. “And we wonder what law enforcement thinks about losing the retro-reflective background that makes old-fashioned license plates so easy to read at night.”

    They’re probably too busy drooling over the built-in tracking system to care about the reflectivity. As the linked article notes, the new law allegedly “generally prohibit[s] an alternative device [i.e. digital plate] from being equipped with GPS or other vehicle location tracking capability,” while at the same time providing many exceptions, and this new legally authorized plate has an LTE modem built in, and a GPS module according to the previous HaD article.

  6. If you want to show slogans and messages alongside your number plate, paint them on the car’s bodywork. Why the need for a power hungry problematic didigtal plate? And painted messages aren’t limited to whatever corporate rubbish ones the DMV may choose to approve.

  7. I wonder how well they’ve thought out security on the e-license plates? Can someone insert a module between the plate’s MCU and screen and have the screen display custom messages at times?

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