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Headphone-wearing pedestrian injuries triple as audiophiles stop noticing onrushing trains

The number of pedestrians injured or killed while wearing headphones has tripled in the last six years: 16 oblivious PMP users were offed in 2004, the number rising to 47 for last year. The research, carried out by Dr Richard Lichenstein at the University of Maryland found that headphone wearers became “inattentionally blind” to dangers such as passing cars and on-rushing trains. That’s not us being flip either: 55 percent of the incidents involved locomotives. The majority of victims were male (68 percent) and under the age of 30 (67 percent): which puts your average Engadget reader in the center of the danger zone – take it from us guys: sometimes it’s better to press pause, “Baby, baby” will still be there when you’ve crossed the railway. Read more
Toyota to launch social network for people who like to befriend car dealerships

Man, social networks have taken on a loose definition as of late, haven’t they? Toyota just announced plans to launch one for its customers, and while our initial reaction was an eye-roll and sighs of “what the world needs now,” the truth is that it’s really just a system that uses Twitter and Facebook to let you know when something’s amiss. Dubbed Toyota Friend (and built on’s private Chatter network), the service will dish up battery power warnings to electric vehicle owners, along with maintenance tips – advice that can pop up on phones, tablets, and “other advanced mobile devices.” In addition to their friendly neighborhood car dealerships, folks can befriend other cars and the friends and family who own them, though it’s unclear from the press release below why you’d care. (Okay, we suppose if we had a teenage driver we might want to know if they were about to break curfew.) If that all sounds like bunk, you probably won’t get a test drive soon, anyway – the service is slated to launch in 2012, in Japan, and, initially, for electric and hybrid vehicle owners only. Read more
Switched On: Zoombak puts your vehicle on the map

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment.

As demonstrated by last year’s purchases of map providers Navteq and Tele Atlas, companies are betting big on the future of location-based services. Knowing, processing, and integrating the location of people and things can be a valuable bridge between the digital and physical worlds, but today most of the activity is in the simple direction of cars from a location to a destination.

Zoombak offers a portable unit about the size of a Zippo lighter that integrates a GPS receiver and cellular radio that reports back on its location when queried. The company offers the unit in two packages – one for use in vehicles and the other for use with dogs.

The receivers in both products are identical and the packages are distinguished by their included accessories: the one for pets includes a collar attachment. Unlike that of one competitor, PocketFinder, the Zoombak receiver is not waterproof, but the company offers tips on how to make it better withstand the elements.

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MIT takes the wrappers off autonomous, robotic helicopter with intelligent navigation

Advances in autonomous helicopters have been many over the years, but as far as we can tell, there’s essentially no limit to how awesome they can get. MIT’s recently developed an autonomous, robotic helicopter which is also able to navigate itself intelligently through a changing environment. The helicopter, which is equipped with a dual-camera array and a laser scanner, maps its terrain in real time, identifying changes along the way. An integrated autonomous exploration module allows the heli to interact with the changing, unknown environment it is mapping. The helicopter was shown off at the AUVSI 2009 International Aerial Robotics Competition, completing five missions – a feat not before seen in the 19-year history of the show. Check out the very educational video after the break. Read more
Garmin multi-sensor controller concept replaces touchscreen interface with in-console dial rig

Garmin may be in the early stages of navigating its way from the narrow roads of portable GPS to the in-car infotainment highway, but the company appears to be on the right path, directing focus away from dedicated compact devices and towards permanent in-dash installations. The latest advancement places a greater emphasis on improving control systems, marking a potential departure from the touchscreen in favor of a console-mounted multi-controller that enables adjustments while minimizing distractions. The system combines a proximity-sensing rotary controller that displays the appropriate interface as your hand approaches, along with a touchpad and a variety of selection buttons with functionality that varies depending on the current menu. In addition to the obvious GPS module, the system would enable HVAC control, car monitoring and even smartphone app integration. The multi-sensor controller is still in the concept phase – the project doesn’t even have a proper name yet – but it does appear to be a practical solution for future vehicle interfaces. You’ll find a few more details in the blog post after the break.

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Garmin partners with Suzuki for company's first in-dash infotainment system

Sure, the portable GPS may still have a home among multi-car families, or drivers that have yet to make the jump to a smartphone, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the dedicated device’s share decline over the next few years. At the same time, in-car infotainment systems are clearly gaining in popularity, so it only makes sense for one of the world’s largest handheld GPS makers to make the jump to in-dash. Garmin’s partnering with Suzuki for its first factory-installed infotainment system, which includes a 6.1-inch “high-res” touchscreen, a CD player and AM/FM radio, internal flash memory, along with USB, AUX jack and Bluetooth connectivity. The voice control-enabled system also includes backup camera support, Pandora integration and an SD card slot for loading updates. One benefit of vehicle integration is access to the car’s speed sensors, allowing the GPS to follow along accurately when it doesn’t have a signal, such as in enclosed areas or tunnels. You can also use Garmin Smartphone Link to access traffic, weather and fuel price info. The in-dash system will ship with most American 2013 model year Suzuki vehicles, along with select cars sold in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Russia. I’ll also be on display at Suzuki’s New York Auto Show booth next week, if you happen to be planning a trip to the Big Apple. Read more
Terrafugia Transition production prototype completes first flight, set to land at NY Auto Show this Friday

Terrafugia’s Transition could finally be making its way to the production line. The “flying car” has journeyed far beyond the concept phase, achieving its compulsory nod from the DOT last summer, and now reaching production prototype status. On March 23rd, the latest Transition flew past one more hurdle, completing its first airborne trial. The hybrid vehicle rolled down the runway at Plattsburgh International Airport in New York before ascending to 1400 feet – the entire flight lasted a mere eight minutes, and marks the first of six planned phases of flight testing during the aircraft’s voyage past experimental stage. There’s still no word on when the Light Sport Aircraft will be making its way to soon-to-be Transition owners, but those hankering for a preview can catch a glimpse of the craft at the New York Auto Show from April 6th through the 15th. You can also taxi past the break for a tail-level view of the test plane’s trek to takeoff. Read more
Nissan Leaf to get inductive charging, lose its stem in 2013 (video)

Nissan has big plans for the still-budding Leaf. The Japanese automaker lit up its impressive Leaf-powered Smart House at the Tokyo Motor Show last week, but also demoed its wireless charging solution for a much smaller crowd at the company’s Oppama factory. The device uses electromagnetic induction to transfer power between a charging pad and a receiver on the bottom of the car, with an efficiency level between 80 and 90 percent – simply park your EV directly above the system to begin charging, and monitor progress on the ground transmission unit’s control panel. The pad is expected to become available as soon as 2013, but will only be compatible with new vehicles, so you won’t be able to use it with an older Leaf, unfortunately. There’s a silent demo video waiting for you just past the break. Read more
Volkswagen Temporary Auto Pilot brings hands-free driving to the highway

Would you feel comfortable driving down the highway with a Temporary Auto Pilot (TAP) behind the wheel of your next Volkswagen? A new technology proposed by the German automaker won’t take you from A to B automatically, but it will help out with more simple driving, so you can take your hands off the wheel while cruising down the highway at up to 130km/h (about 80 mph), for example. The system pairs Lane Assist with cruise control, and can be overridden by the driver at any time. The TAP system’s Pilot Mode uses radar, laser, camera, and ultrasonic sensors to maintain a safe distance between vehicles, start and stop in traffic, and slow down before a bend. Speed is set by the driver, who you’ll need to remain aware of your surroundings in case you need to take over control – so don’t get too comfortable poking around the menus on that AppRadio just yet. Read more
Pioneer AppRadio review

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Pioneer announces Aha Radio partnership, plans for app domination

Hyundai announces Blue Link telematics system, makes texting your Sonata a sweet possibility

If you drive, and if you read Engadget (which…you do), there’s a good chance you’ve spent some time using an iOS device in the car. You’ve probably also spent some of that time wishing there were a better way to integrate your phone or pod with the car itself. There have been devices to help you bring Pod and vehicle together in an unholy union of distraction since that first physical scroll wheel hit the scene, from maddening tape adapters and FM tuners to more integral solutions like Ford’s Sync system. The whole time, we were kind of just wishing they’d figure out a way to let us mount the thing directly in the dash, and have our way with it as we do in all other situations. Pioneer’s AppRadio approaches that – it looks unapologetically like a bigger iPod in landscape mode, complete with minimalistic physical controls and a laid-back, no-nonsense look about it. Does it, in fact, make the iPhone more useful while you’re in the car? Turns out, it’s a yes and no kind of thing.
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TankChair deemed too heavy to use on UK streets, disabled man becomes marketing boon (video)

While we figure that giant, tread-wielding wheelchairs have no trouble selling themselves, a disabled man named Jim Starr is helping them along their merry way – a story about his TankChair being rejected for street use by UK authorities is giving the company plenty of free advertising. That’s not to say that we don’t feel for the disabled father of two, and hope he gets to use his snow-crushing, beach-mashing wheelchair in peace – it’s just not particularly surprising that a non-standard vehicle would be illegal to use on public roadways, and as you’ll see in the video after the break (at roughly 5:30) the law doesn’t seem to be restraining him any. Read more
Auto-dimming electrochromic panels reduce glare when driving (video)

It’s rush hour, and you’re headed due West on your evening commute – the sun burning holes in your eyes. You could flip down a window visor, trading your field of view for visibility. Or, with a prototype shown off at Intel’s 2010 International Science and Engineering Fair, you could simply let the windshield darken on its own. Two San Diego students (both accustomed to copious amounts of sunshine) rigged a Toyota Prius to do just that by stringing up electrochromic panels, which dim when voltage is applied. The trick is figuring out when and where to apply it, because when the sun is shining the panels themselves all receive the same amount of light. So instead of gauging it at the glass, Aaron Schild and Rafael Cosman found that an ultrasonic range finder could track the driver’s position while a VGA webcam measured the light coming through, and darken the sections liable to cause the most eyestrain. We saw a prototype in person, and it most certainly works… albeit slowly. If you’re rearing to roll your own, it seems raw materials are reasonably affordable – Schild told us electrochromic segments cost $0.25 per square inch – but you may not need to DIY. Having won $4,000 in prize money at the Fair, the teens say they intend to commercialize the technology, and envision it natively embedded in window glass in the not-too-distant future. Here’s hoping GM gives them a call. See pics of the Prius below, or check out a video demo of their prototype right after the break. %Gallery-93034% Read more