Bugs on the windscreen

17 May 2006

Here’s an interesting snippet from Top Gear magazine’s review of the new Volvo S80 luxo-barge:

“There’s [an] optional driver-prompt: little cameras scan the mirror blind spot and flash an amber light when someone’s abreast of you. Trouble is, at certain speeds in the rain, they gather drops of water which fool the camera and trigger the light. Doubtless a little lip below the lens would cure it. So why not?”

Well, the why not is pretty simple: Volvo engineers probably haven’t thought of it. Even more probably, they hadn’t even registered the problem until they read about it in Top Gear.

The fact is, modern cars are increasingly encrusted with new high-tech systems, and it’s doubtful that the development cycle of the car, long as it is, provides enough time to detect these kinds of wrinkles. When you have to test not only that the car does what it’s supposed to do, but also that it doesn’t do what it’s not supposed to do, testing can take a lifetime.

Cars contain more software, obviously, but they are also becoming more like software: buggy, in need of patches and upgrades to fix the niggling problems caused by unforeseen combinations of events, tiny errors in design and other faults.

Given that more and more cars have touch screens and, in the future, will be internet connected, it won’t be long before drivers will have the option to send bug reports direct to the makers. It’ll be just like using a beta of Internet Explorer 7 – only at high speed, down the motorway. Now won’t that be great!

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