Saturday, 7 February 2009

Potentially a break-through - Coyote Speed Camera GPS Device

I am a man who likes to drive in a spirited (yet safe) fashion and I have taken extended courses to further my knowledge of proceeding as "rapidly and safely as conditions allow" (in the words of John Lyon, the instructor who offers the courses). The thinking being that if you love tennis or golf you probably will get some coaching to improve - so why not do the same if you love driving?

And although track days are all well and good, one spends most of one's time on the public roads and so it is here that improving on-road driving skills matters most. And if this is the environment in which you are operating then you will encounter the dreaded GATSO and its bastard siblings the Truvelo and SPECS cameras.

Ever since the UK became populated with these money-generating nasties (which, if you check the data on road deaths, have mushroomed while there has been no dramatic reduction in fatalities - in fact, in-car safety devices such as airbags and better crumple zones have done far, far more) the business of detecting them and alerting drivers to them has been big business.

Initially the solution lay with radar detectors but this ran into problems with the 1949 Wireless and Telegraphy Act (which was then challenged in the Queens Bench Divisional Court in 1998) as being unlawful. In real-world terms these also became less effective as a result of the decline in use of "hair-dryers" or hand-held police operated mobile radar guns which emit a high power blast of radar that can be detected for miles around. These were replaced by laser units and GATSOs both of which are far more difficult to spot with radar/laser detectors. Not least because laser doesn't spread much (of course!) and so detection by any vehicle other than the target is very difficult and then because GATSOs lay down a small, controlled & constant radar box which is very neat and also hard to detect until you are almost on it. And it faces away from the driver, whereas the old radar guns pointed towards on-coming motorists so helping to warn those further away but approaching.

So the technology of detection and alerting the driver changed to GPS units. Perhaps the most delicious thing about these is that they hoisted the restrictive road safety lobby by the own petard: by using the lobby's defense that cameras were only placed at accident black-spots the makers of GPS devices were able to say that by providing advanced warning of the black-spots they were only furthering a road-safety agenda. The fact that they happened to be warning of a camera site was a by-product, honestly officer.

These reached their great sophistication with units like the TomTom which converge satnav, camera warning and even hands-free telephony in one neat bundle. But of course some cars have on-board nav and so there remains the need for small, neat & discrete units just for cameras.

And there is the rub - because the efficacy of these systems entirely relates to the comprehensiveness & freshness of their camera database. Most companies rely on motorists to press a button when they pass a camera that is not on the system and in doing so the unit stores the GPS co-ordinates, which then get uploaded the next time the unit syncs. However, almost all systems then submit these new locations to be verified by head office before they make it onto the main map. So it can be weeks or months before the users of the database get new cameras onto their 'radar', as it were.

But Coyote has a new approach - by building a GSM unit into each module it updates constantly, every 10 minutes, with other Coyote users via GPRS mobile data. And when you store a new location it is immediately sent out to every Coyote unit in the country. So not only do new cameras get logged instantly but it even starts logging the sites of mobile vans and other "temporary" cameras which totally fall through the net of other databases' verification systems.

The system began in France (where it has more than 6,000 users) and is just coming over here - my unit has arrived yesterday and I am very much looking forward to testing the claims of comprehensive camera coverage (phew) but in theory at least this seems to be a breakthrough.

Oh, and the unit is deliciously neat, slickly designed and has a rechargeable battery so it doesn't clutter up your dash with ugly wires.

Updates to come...

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Gmail - it's very good, but still

Much celebration after Gmail announces offline access via Gears. But this is so well put.