From Car To Device: How Software Is Changing Vehicle Ownership

For much of the last century, the ownership, loving care, and maintenance of an aged and decrepit automobile has been a rite of passage among the mechanically inclined. Sure, the battle against rust and worn-out parts may eventually be lost, but through that bond between hacker and machine are the formative experiences of motoring forged. In middle-age we wouldn’t think of setting off across the continent on a wing and a prayer in a decades-old vehicle, but somehow in our twenties we managed it. The Drive have a piece that explores how technological shifts in motor vehicle design  are changing our relationship with cars such that what we’ve just described may become a thing of the past. Titled “The Era of ‘the Car You Own Forever’ Is Coming to an End“, it’s well worth a read.

At the crux of their argument is that carmakers are moving from a model in which they produce motor vehicles that are simply machines, into one where the vehicles are more like receptacles for their software. In much the same way as a smartphone is obsolete not necessarily through its hardware becoming useless but through its software becoming unmaintained, so will the cars of the future. Behind this is a commercial shift as the manufacturers chase profits and shareholder valuations, and a legal change in the relationship between customer and manufacturer that moves from ownership of a machine into being subject to the terms of a software license.

This last should be particularly concerning to all of us, after all if we’re expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a car it’s not unreasonable to expect that it will continue to serve us at our convenience rather than at that of its manufacturer.

If you’re a long-time Hackaday reader, you may remember that we’ve touched on this topic before.

Header image: Carolyn Williams, CC BY 2.0.

Less Is More — Or How To Replace A $25,000 Bomb Sight For 20 Cents

Depending on who you ask, the Norden bombsight was either the highest of high tech during World War II, or an overhyped failure that provided jobs and money for government contractors. Either way, it was super top secret in its day. It was also expensive. They cost about $25,000 each and the whole program came in at well over a billion dollars. The security was over the top. When not flying, the bombsight was removed from the plane and locked in a vault. There was a pyro device that would self-destruct the unit if it were in danger of being captured. So why did one of the most famous missions of World War II fly with the Norden replaced by 20 cents worth of machined metal? Good question.

You often hear the expression “less is more” and, in this case, it is an accurate idea. I frequently say, though, that “just enough is more.” In this case, though, less was actually just enough. There were three reasons that one famous mission in the Pacific theater didn’t fly the Norden. It all had to do with morale, technology, and secrecy.

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Electric Vehicles Continue The Same Wasteful Mistakes That Limit Longevity

A while back, I sat in the newish electric car that was the pride and joy of a friend of mine, and had what was at the time an odd experience. Instead of getting in, turning the key, and driving off, the car instead had to boot up.

The feeling was of a piece of software rather than a piece of hardware, and there was a tangible wait before the start button could be pressed. It was a miracle of technology that could travel smoothly and quietly for all but the longest journeys I could possibly throw at it on relative pennies-worth of electricity, but I hated it. As a technologist and car enthusiast, I should be all over these types of motor vehicles. I live for new technology and I lust after its latest incarnations in many fields including automobiles.

I want my next car to have an electric motor, I want it to push the boundaries of what is capable with a battery and I want it to be an automotive tour de force. The switch to electric cars represents an opportunity like no other to deliver a new type of car that doesn’t carry the baggage of what has gone before, but in that car I saw a future in which they were going badly astray.

I don’t want my next vehicle to be a car like my friend’s one, and to understand why that is the case it’s worth going back a few decades to the cars my parents drove back when when jumpers were goalposts, and the home computer was just a gleam in the eye of a few long-haired outsiders in California.

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