Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: Dashcam driftin'

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Sir Peter Maire-founded Navman is now a Taiwanese and not a New Zealand company, and it's having to work hard to stay relevant in the face of withering competition from cheap Chinese GPS makers and high-priced smartphones.

That calls for a different take on things, and to think about what it is that your customers actually use electronics in cars for. Navman can't remain a one-trick pony and make global positioning system based navigation devices only, and has to add functionality to capture people's interest.

As a result, the company's new range of dashcams - or drive cameras/recorders - come with a long range of features, extending what they can be used for.

I'll be installing the MiVue 690 ($379 RRP) in my car just to see if it can capture the horrors of Auckland motorists that give me frights most days. Navman set up a stunt driving session in Albany to show off the MiVue cameras and perhaps to record some blackmail-worthy images of yours truly in abject terror while skidding around a parking lot and jumping over a ramp.

That didn't pan out because I felt totally safe in professional driver Peter Bell's car because he's not unpredictable and un-focused like so many other motorists.

Apart from recording in Super 2K HD (a slightly odd 2,304 by 1,296 pixel format) resolution, you get a GPS tracking, this being a Navman device, and a three-axis G force sensor, plus alerts for driver fatigue, lane departure, speed camera, red light and collision warning.

It's quite a list for such a small device, but I was disappointed to see that there's no wireless smartphone or computer connection - you have to use the USB port, or pop out the optional micro-SD memory card to look at recordings.

Also, like so many in-car electronics devices, you instantly wish that vehicle makers had put in mounting systems with charging and data ports as you have to use a long, ugly cable with a fat cigarette lighter adapter to power the MiVue 690.

There's a top-of-the-range model, the MiVue 698, which has a rear 1080p camera as well and I think that'd be the one to go for.

Now, the point of dashcams isn't so much to make traffic horror movies, but to figure out whose fault an accident was. Navman NZ sales manager Tony Hewlett is himself going to court to battle an insurer after his car was t-boned and mangled, and said he'll use the evidence recorded to show the intensity of the crash.

There's also the deterrent effect: if other drivers know that they might be recorded, perhaps they'll be a little less aggressive? (Yeah, dream on...)

I asked Hewlett if Navman had thought of teaming up with an insurer to offer driver's dashcams in return for lower policy premiums. With a little electronic spy in the car that records audio, measures acceleration, location and more, it'd be easy for insurers to pinpoint whose fault any given situation was. That'd put an end to insurers sending out nasty letters to all involved in accidents, even innocent parties, so as to recoup payouts for damaged vehicles, surely.

Adding a camera system that constantly records everything around a car would be easy enough for vehicle makers.

That's where Navman draws the line though, and Hewlett pointed out that it would be uncomfortably like automated day to day surveillance, and an unacceptable breach of privacy for most people. Besides, lowered premiums and insurance companies are two things that generally don't go together.

Speaking of privacy, there's that to consider for dashcams; as far as I can tell though, you are allowed to record video on the road as long as you don't take your hands off the wheel to do it, but it could still be seen as inconsiderate.

That's also the most likely reason why car makers who have built discreet cameras into their vehicles for years now have stuck to using them for parking and positioning, and not extended the brief to include recording.

Adding a camera system that constantly records everything around a car would be easy enough for vehicle makers.

It could be connected to smart city road sensors and users' smartphones and biometric wristwatches and bands... and yes, we'd be users of driverless cars by then, because taking the wheel yourself while being fully surveilled by automated artificial intelligence systems over a network would be too much of a liability.

Until that happens, and I'd give it maybe five years or so, we'll have dashcams to record just how badly many of us drive. Including ourselves.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

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