Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Talking Cars

Click to enlarge picture1981 Datsun 810 Maxima (© Nissan North America)

While today’s voice recognition and response systems are much more evolved and useful than the one on this Datsun 810 Maxima, digital nannies of yesteryear were novelties that were more annoying than helpful.

Picture yourself back in 1982: You are taking your new high-tech Datsun 810 Maxima for a nighttime drive in the country. A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran” is playing on the radio. You are all alone in the cockpit — or so you think. When you come to a stop and turn off the ignition, a sultry female voice emanates from behind the dash: “Lights are on.” And so they are. You turn them off and say, “Thanks, baby.”

With a vocabulary of exactly six phrases, the 810 Maxima was the first true talking car, equipped with a digital nanny feature that would chastise you for forgetful behaviors, including not switching off your headlights or failing to buckle your seat belt. And like any true fad, the recordings that were etched into its phonograph-style cylinder swiftly went from way-cool tech to way annoying. But that didn’t stop the insufferable feature from finding its way into other vehicles such as the 1984 Dodge Daytona and Chrysler Laser.

And despite eventually becoming an ’80s punch line, cars that talk have once again resurfaced in the form of voice-prompt GPS navigation systems and Sync-style voice control systems. It seems that this time, however, they have something relevant to say.