Sunday, January 16, 2011

How Technology Changed My Driving Habits

My wife and I recently purchased a brand spanking new Honda Odyssey minivan (we're searching for a "minivan" word substitute to avoid feeling suburban - "PeopleMover" just hasn't stuck).

One of the most interesting features is the Trip Display.   When used as the main dashboard HUD, it provides a whole bunch of interesting information.

Honda Odyssey Trip Display
Home on the Range

In the bottom right is the Range feature.  If you're like me, you tend to fill up when the fuel gauge warning light is on, anxiously hoping you have enough fumes to get the next gas station.  This ever-present section of the Trip Display HUD shows the approximate distance you can travel before you run out of gas.  This also dynamically updates.  Clearly, the van has a pretty good guess about your gas mileage in order to present that, and it's nice to know I've got enough to get home and I'll just fill it up tomorrow instead honey....
Enter the Real Time Fuel Economy Display

The most prominent piece of information on the Trip Display is a large number line that looks a little like a Progress Bar.  The axis is labeled " L / 100 kms " which if you didn't already know, is the typical way Canadians (and maybe others) publish fuel economy specifications.  Ultimately you want to use least amount of gas to go as far as you can, so a lower number is better.  What's super cool is that as you drive, the "progress bar" updates in real time to display what your current rate of fuel consumption is.  Jumping off the line as a light changes Green pushes you right to the end of the bar at 25 L/100kms.  Cruising down the highway sees the bar drop down to a nice, steady 6 to 9.  Bonus points if you've already started thinking about whether it's reasonable to to show idling as 0.

Maybe it is Easy Being Green

Being environmentally conscientious may be de rigueur, but who wouldn't want to know if they're spending more than they have to?  With gas at $1.14/l over the Christmas break, having this information stare me in the face is dramatically altering my driving habits.

I've read about similar technology in the Prius and Leaf.  In particular, a little green leaf that "fills in" depending on how economically you drive.  While the Odyssey doesn't have that, the interface is still "video game" like enough that the psychological reward for playing well is still there.

A really neat knock-on motivator comes from combining the fuel economy part with the Range display.  Driving "friendly" gives you a little bonus reward when you see your range decrease more slowly than the distance you've traveled.

Perhaps since Range represents remaining fuel, or maybe simply because it decreases, it feels like a kind of currency.  As it goes down, you know you're "spending" it on distance.  For example, when you first start the van, you may have 240km to go before you run out of gas.  As you drive, it will drop: 238, 235, etc.  However, if you manage to drive "friendlier" than your average (typically highway vs city), you may in fact travel 10 kilometers while the Range display only shows 5 kilometers spent.  That's like getting 5 free kilometers -Woohoo! (of course it's not, but it still feels like it, and motivates you to improve your average).

What I find even more exciting is that there's no prescription for driving economically.  That's up to you.  This is Dan Pink's Motivation 2.0 in action. It is social engineering I can subscribe to.  No guilt-trips, punishments, or social/political manipulation by vested interests about our dying planet.  I have a clear, dynamic, self-serving economic indicator that serves to induce a rational person to behave more responsibly.

I already find myself rolling off the line a little slower.  I leave a little more room in front so I can find a cruise control speed that doesn't require braking as often.  I'll go 110 instead of 120.  I don't bother punching it to pass as often.  I don't believe it will change my habits so much that we alter our trip plans, or reduce our amount of city driving, but I'm sure this is only the beginning - and every little bit helps!

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