My Chemical Romance

In the 1950s and ’60s, Americans were promised “better living through chemistry.” Today, public sentiment more aptly supports a mantra like “better living through social media.” At least that’s the way we act. But we’re surrounded by some really cool chemical technology—some of which goes seemingly unnoticed by a big chunk of consumers. Maybe we’re too distracted by our smartphones and Facebook feeds to attend to some of the more hidden and amazing chemical innovations that surround us (and no, I’m not talking about Vicodin).

When I got my first sports car after college, I discovered a glass treatment called Rain-X. Some of you are surely familiar with it, while others may be completely clueless. More likely you’ve heard of it but never used it or seen it in action. What does it do? It dramatically increases driver visibility, beading water off any glass surface. Because of the wind resistance hitting a car’s windshield, Rain-X is especially effective on this surface. The rain or condensation beads and then wind resistance pushes it off the glass. It’s that simple.

Wikipedia describes Rain-X as a “synthetic hydrophobic surface-applied product that causes water to bead.” In other words, it’s basically wax for glass. If freshly and properly applied, Rain-X prevents you from having to use your windshield wipers. It’s that good. And, if you’re a obsessive car-loving tech geek like me, it’s super fun to watch in action.

rain-xRain-X works by saturating the microscopic pores in glass with its chemically bonded silicon polymers. This is what prevents water from sticking to the surface of the glass. In addition, insects, mud, and road debris are also repelled. Instead of sticking to your glass, these elements basically slide right off (this is a great reason to also use it on your headlamps and taillights). Thus, automotive glass surfaces don’t simply sport amazingly improved visibility during rain or snow, but they’re also safer and more pleasant during dry periods—because there’s less crap sticking to your windshield and blocking your view. (If you still suffer a foggy or glare-ridden windshield after properly applying Rain-X, try cleaning the interior of your glass.)

As long as you re-apply Rain-X every month or so, you’re in business. The frequency of treatment depends on how much rain the treated surfaces have received since the prior application (drivers in Portland and London will be buying more Rain-X than those in Phoenix). More rain equals a shorter life span and more applications (especially rain encountered during full-speed highway or freeway driving). If you experience a fog or glare after application, it means you haven’t properly removed the overspray. The combination of a wet sponge, followed by a dry paper towel, will take care of this, leaving your glass as clear as you’ve ever seen it. And it will remain clean for much longer than the untreated windshield on your neighbor’s car.

This probably isn’t true for most drivers, but windshield wipers give me a headache. They mess with my field of view. Their incessant swiping action I find to be obnoxious and distracting (and drivers have enough distractions). With Rain-X, I rarely use my wipers. In fact, regular applications of this 20th century molecular magic can prevent you from ever using your wipers.

Rain-X is one of the most inexpensive and easy ways to improve the safety of your vehicle while also getting some cheap entertainment in terms of the beading action on your windshield. Whether you drive an entry-level econobox or a $100,000 European saloon, you owe it to yourself—and the safety of your family—to give it a try.

curtsig2 - trans
Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Auto Industry: Slow on Tech Innovation

It’s the time of year in America when our kids are back in school and the auto industry has released next year’s models, so let’s talk about consumer tech in cars. It’s nice that even some entry-level automobiles feature cool tech like Bluetooth, backup cameras (mandatory in all cars sold in the United States by 2018), and in-built wireless technologies like 4G. But why do I always get the feeling that the auto industry is continually dragging its heels, always playing catch up with mobile devices and all the wireless tech with which we’re surrounded on a daily basis?

With consumers habituated to fast upgrade cycles for items like smartphones and personal computers, why is the auto industry so bloody slow when it comes to jumping on the same bandwagon? Just like the consumer electronics industry, car companies release new models every year, so they certainly have the opportunity.

tesla model s replacement for blogI can almost understand a conspiracy theorist who might insist that auto manufacturers are colluding in their seeming refusal to embrace new tech and interoperability between our mobile devices and their products. Yes, there was Microsoft Sync in Ford’s automobiles (RIP) and Apple has introduced CarPlay, which began rolling out in a few 2014 models (and works only with Apple’s products; this isn’t an industry standard). But this still feels more like a push from tech titans like Apple and Microsoft than true innovation from the auto industry itself. Simply connecting to our existing mobile devices is part of the equation, but where’s the “gee whiz” stuff?

Where is the Angry Birds or Snapchat of automobiles?

Yes, I do like “new” technologies like LED taillights, adaptive cruise control, and computer-controlled suspension systems. But we’re talking innovation here. While uber-cool, these are tech that have been around for a long time. In fact, it’s a sign of how slow the automobile industry is not only to innovate, but simply to roll out existing technologies based on past innovations. While LED lights are finally beginning to trickle down to even entry-level cars, nice tricks like laser-based adaptive cruise control and sci-fi-inspired head-up displays are still the territory of luxury vehicles.

We expect a culture of affordable innovation from companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung. It’s the foundation of their existence. But the fact that they have to push their tech on the auto industry is sad. Yes, really cool technology is expensive and auto manufacturers don’t want to reduce their already sometimes razor-thin profit margins. I get it. But we also know that truly innovative tech becomes considerably less expensive as more consumers jump on the bandwagon. Any manufacturer that decides to roll out a given technology (LED taillights, for example) across it’s entire catalog will experience such per-unit price discounts that the cost of this tech should not be its primary concern. What should be? Beating the competition by satisfying the tech lust of middle class consumers. But if recession-strapped Americans gobbling up $600 iPads at unheard of rates isn’t enough to convince auto execs of this, what is?

Where are the advanced sound systems that use basic acoustic science to drown out road noise and vastly improve our listening experience? Where is the uttered “down window” that prevents me from taking my hands off the wheel? Just the fact that so many cars manufactured today lack auto-on headlamps is enough to make you cry. Unfortunately, auto industry executives just don’t seem to get it. At least not when it comes to innovations that satisfy consumer demand and recognize dominant social trends.

It’s nice to know that if you were frozen in a cryogenic chamber 35 years ago and awoke today, you could capably drive a 2014 or 2015 model car. Yes, we need standardization. But when I jump in a friend’s sedan and we cruise down the road and I can’t even tell who manufactured the vehicle without looking at its badging, I think we have a problem.

nissan leaf for linkedinWith the distinct exception of Toyota’s Prius hybrid, Nissan’s all-electric LEAF, and anything from Tesla, cars seem to totally lack differentiation. Sometimes it feels like they’re all manufactured by one huge World Car Corp. and they simply offer a wide range of shapes, sizes, luxury levels, and prices. This is especially painful given the price of automobiles. Really, Buick and Kia, the best you can do is Bluetooth, LED lights, and a crappy, difficult-to-navigate touch screen on the dashboard?

Voice navigation and head-up displays are probably the most promising uses of new-tech we’ve seen in a while. Both improve driver attention where it matters: At the road. And both are way-cool and enticing features. But while many of us actually have Bluetooth or backup cameras in our vehicles, how many can control the music or air conditioning in our cars with our voice?

Exactly.

This is probably one of my lousiest blog posts in terms of educating readers or making a good point (like me, chances are you’re simply angrier now). I’m basically just whining. But at $20,000 to $60,000, the value proposition for tech in cars is among the lowest of any consumer purchase. Considering how much we spend on personal transportation, I think we’re all entitled to a bit of whining—whether you drive a Toyota Yaris or a BMW M5.

I sincerely love that Google, Ford, and Volvo are doing some incredible things with advanced perimeter sensing, collision avoidance, and automated parking in their quest for better safety and, eventually, fully autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars make for great headlines in the media. But while we salivate over this future tech, the cars actually sitting in our driveways aren’t that much different from models from ten or even fifteen years ago—and none of us would use a cell phone or computer from 15 years ago, would we?

curtsig2 - trans
Curt Robbins

[See also Time for Tesla and Electric Car Adoption: Not Why You Think.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.