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General Motors technological gadgets

Vehicle to vehicle / vehicle to infrastucture communications

The amazing General Motors vehicle-to-vehicle communications system (which also lets cars talk to the “road infrastructure.”)

Oil Life Indicators

GM's computer watches engine conditions and alerts the driver when the oil is probably in need of replacement, presumably acting conservatively; that can be anywhere from 2,000 miles up to a full 10,000 miles. By asking you to change your oil only when needed, the system both saves you money and prevents needless wastes of oil - helping the environment, as well. If the average oil change interval for GM buyers was doubled, it would be quite a savings indeed - and GM's oil life indicator system might just do that, without engine damage.

Turn by turn navigation system — without a navigation screen

The turn by turn navigation is a clever system which uses OnStar, since there is no other way to input the destination. Call the OnStar operative, wait on hold for a minute, then tell your destination; he or she programs it in, sends it to your car, and then the voice tells you which way to go. Even more cleverly, the dot-matrix display in the stereo spells it out, giving out the next direction and street, and even showing a graphic countdown. This is an impressively clever system.

EyeCue

Simple but clever, this system puts a digital speedometer onto the windshield (it is actually reflected from the dashboard). You can control the brightness and position of the display. This keeps the driver's eye on the road while providing essential information; it includes turn signal and other important displays as needed.

XM Radio

XM Radio is a subscription radio service with a hundred stations, featuring music you will not hear on centrally programmed, monopoly-owned commercial radio. There are few ads, little DJ chatter, and an incredible variety of music, and the system is programmed into the radio as just another band, like FM. But the name of the channel (e.g. Bluegrass, DeepTrak, the 1970s) is shown on the display so you know where you are. You can use presets to return to your favorite XM stations. If you're on the road a lot, this system is well worth the $325 down and monthly subscription.

Stabilitrak

We appreciate the help of Stabilitrak, which mostly eliminated the squealing tires that can bring the attention of the law, while keeping the rear end of cars with powerful engines where they should be - in the rear. Indeed, the difference between Camaros with and without Stabilitrak was fairly extreme, with the electronic application of traction control and suspension travel making the difference between a composed, predictable, incredibly fast car and one which seemed to always want to make sudden, unexpected U-turns when the gas was stomped.

GM writes: "StabiliTrak 2.0, an improved version of the most advanced integrated stability control system in the world... includes side-slip rate control and active steering effort compensation. Introduced on three performance-oriented Cadillac models in the 1997 model year, StabiliTrak provides an important safety advance by helping the driver maintain control during emergency or evasive maneuvers. StabiliTrak works by comparing the driver’s intentions (indicated by steering wheel position) with how the vehicle is responding. Three key sensors keep the ABS and traction control computer informed: one reads steering wheel angle, another reports the vehicle’s lateral acceleration and the third measures yaw rate (rotational velocity about a vertical axis through the car’s center of gravity). Information is also gathered from vehicle speed.

"If the vehicle’s dynamic response does not agree with the direction the driver is steering, StabiliTrak goes to work by selectively applying the individual front brakes to help keep the car on the intended course. If the car is slipping wide of the desired path in a turn, applying the inside brake helps the vehicle turn tighter. In case of diminished traction at the rear causing the tail of the car to drift wide, activating the outside-front brake gently nudges the car back in line. StabiliTrak is automatic and requires no additional driver action. In most cases, the driver probably won’t even notice the helping hand from this technically sophisticated system....Unlike stability control systems from other manufacturers, Cadillac’s system maintains the driver’s ability to apply throttle in StabiliTrak maneuvers."

We generally found Stabilitrak to be, well, an incredibly useful system, in dry, wet, or snowy conditions.

Navigation Systems

GM uses two different systems - amusingly, Cadillac even uses two of them, one in the CTS and one in the Escalade (for example). The CTS:

Far superior to those used by Toyota, it has many useful features, including several different map views, countdowns in feet to the next turn, voice navigation assistance, extensive points of interest, and easy access to all these functions via clearly marked buttons and a large knob. Typing in addresses was far easier than with some other systems, including the one in the Escalade, but it didn't seem possible to simply type in the name of a business (you could put in its category and then its name, or use its telephone number). Three map views - constant North, map turning to have the car always pointing upwards, and 3D - are available to meet driver tastes. Our only major complaint with the system was its slow speed and the need to agree to pay attention to the road each and every time the car was restarted (it did allow full access to the stereo without that agreement).

While we generally are not fans of combined radio/navigation systems, since they force drivers' eyes off the road, at least this one was relatively logical and easy to read, so you could drive while changing radio stations or adjusting audio quality. Four buttons on the steering wheel allowed for rapid access to favorite radio stations across bands, so you could switch from an AM traffic station to an FM news station to two XM satellite radio music stations without going to the radio controls.

Speaking of the radio, the navigation system/stereo also had a digital signal processor which allowed music to be optimized for the driver, passenger, rear passengers, or everyone in the vehicle. Equalizer (bass, treble, midrange) settings can be memorized along with station presets, though we never figured out how to save this along with the seat and mirror preferences.

The navigation system also has an area for various car statistics - average gas mileage, average speed, battery voltage, oil and transmission fluid life, that sort of thing - voice memos, and an address book.

The maps, points of interest, and other details are in a series of DVDs supplied with the car, and loaded from one of two slots by the unit (the lower slot is a CD changer). The DVDs overlap so if you live on a border, you don't have to constantly switch. The navigation system is a bit slow to calculate routes, and the system takes some getting used to, but you don't necessarily need a manual.

Finally, the navigation system makes it easy to access driver customization systems - for example, telling the CTS to lower the side view mirrors when you back up, or to unlock all four doors at once, etc.

The other system is similar, but provides a typewriter-screen layout for entering text, and instead of spinning a wheel to go left to right through the alphabet, you can go up, down, and to the side. The problem with the latter system is that it's far too easy to push the enter key when you didn't mean to. In any case, the features are similar.

OnStar

OnStar, which is cleverly integrated into the mirror and speakers (with a hidden microphone), can quickly make itself useful for those who travel and sometimes need a little help getting un-lost. By automatically calling an ambulance after an accident, OnStar may even save your life. Likewise, if you get lost, you can call for competent directions. We have never failed to get a polite, courteous, and patient representative on the other end of the phone - who could also make motel reservations for us.

According to the Detroit News, OnStar reports 800 airbag deployments and 350 stolen vehicles per month.

Specifically, subscribers have a choice of three plan options – Safe & Sound, Directions & Connections, and Luxury & Leisure.

Safe & Sound

  • If a driver is in a minor traffic accident, they can contact an OnStar advisor via the OnStar button to receive step-by-step guidance after the incident. OnStar will notify an insurance company of an accident, as well as provide a checklist of what information is needed to file a police report, or to speed an insurance claim.
  • If a vehicle’s air bag deploys, an emergency signal is sent automatically to the OnStar Center. An advisor will attempt to communicate with the vehicle’s occupants. If there is no response, or if the car’s occupants report an emergency, the advisor will contact the nearest appropriate emergency services provider.
  • In an emergency, the driver simply touches the red  emergency services button. An OnStar advisor locates the vehicle's position on a digital map and alerts the nearest emergency services provider.
  • Online concierge services allow subscribers to access self-serve concierge services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at www.myonstar.com for dining reservations, event ticket purchases, flower/gift recommendations and more. Additionally, the concierge partners offering services on the Website have been pre-screened and selected so that subscribers receive best-in-class, high quality service.
  • If a driver has mechanical trouble, a flat tire or runs out of gas, the OnStar advisor will dispatch the nearest GM service provider to the vehicle’s location.
  • If the driver locks his or her keys in the vehicle, a call to a toll-free number connects the driver to the OnStar Center. After obtaining accurate security information from the caller, an advisor will send a cellular data call to the vehicle that instructs it to unlock itself at a specified time.
  • If a warning light flashes on the vehicle’s instrument panel, the driver can contact the OnStar Center. An advisor will send a signal to the vehicle asking for the status of the engine computer. The vehicle transmits any problem codes and, based on this information, the advisor recommends the required action, which could include turning off the car and waiting for roadside assistance, scheduling a service appointment, or getting the problem checked during the next scheduled maintenance visit.
  • If a subscriber calls the OnStar Center to report a vehicle stolen, the advisor can send a signal to the vehicle, get its location and begin tracking the vehicle. The advisor will give the location information to the nearest police authority.

Directions & Connections (includes all of the Safe & Sound services plus):

  • An OnStar advisor can offer a wide range of information and convenience services, from suggesting a restaurant to making hotel reservations. The advisor, using a 7.2-million listing database, can help the driver locate nearby businesses and attractions, such as banks, movie theaters, shopping malls, museums, camp sites, etc.
  • If a subscriber is incapable of driving or if the vehicle is undrivable, the driver can ask the OnStar advisor to call a taxicab. If no cab is available, the OnStar advisor will try to contact a relative or friend.
  • When the driver places a call to the OnStar Center to request assistance, the advisor pinpoints the vehicle's location and provides voice routing navigation assistance, including helping to find an alternate route if the driver is caught in traffic.

Luxury & Leisure (includes all of the Directions & Connections services plus):

  • This service allows subscribers to use online concierge services, plus the option to reach a live OnStar concierge advisor via e-mail, live Web chat, phone, or the blue button in the vehicle (everyday from 8 a.m.-midnight EST). OnStar concierge advisors are here to help with referrals, recommendations, reservations, and research.

2001 or later OnStar-equipped vehicles can also have the optional Personal Calling and Virtual Advisor.

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