Stupid Design of the Week: Toyota Yaris

Rental cars can be fun!  Some say a rental car is the ultimate off road vehicle.  For me though, it’s a great chance to examine different product design philosophies, in some of the most expensive consumer products on the market.  On this trip, my rental car was a bright blue Toyota Yaris…a class of rental car I usually avoid but have been curious about. 

So, the good: drop this car into a low auto gear (3 or 2), and it’s a peppy, fun car that reminds me a lot of a Mini Cooper.  Driving dynamics are downright decent. 

The bad: everything else.  No, really,  the stereo is one of the most counter-intuitive I’ve seen.  A peice of plastic trim came flying off when I removed my laptop bag from behind the driver’s seat.  The brakes work eventually.  The driving position is reminiscent of bad Italian design from decades ago, with arms extended and legs crunched up around either side of the wheel.  The worst design detail though?  The door locks,  I haven’t had a car without remote locks in ages, but that’s not a big deal.  What’s bad is how the locks work.  Unlock the doors by rotating the key clockwise.  Ok. Got it.  Now unlock the rear hatch…by rotating the key *counter* clockwise.  What kind of moron decided they’d actually ship a mass produced vehicle like this?  Redesign the locks so they work the same, it’s just idiotic to do otherwise.

Earth Hour – tonight!

why-you-should-switch-off-your-lights-for-earth-hour-MATTYS-VERSIONEarth Hour is tonight, 8:30-9:30PM local time.  It’s mostly viewed as a symbolic gesture, a way of expressing one’s concern for the environment.  However, the benefits can go beyond merely symbolism, as this large infographic from Jones Oil Blog shows (yeah…an oil company encouraging you to use less oil?  Hey, at least they ‘get it’…).  The numbers are a bit staggering, though perhaps not entirely relevant (it mentions the energy saved is equivalent to lighting 172 billion 100W light bulbs for an hour…a device that is being phased out in many countries and being phased out in others…but you get the point.  I just think it’d be more impressive if put in terms of CFL bulbs).  It also put some nice numbers to the cost of the energy we use…and how that money saved could be used to buy renewable energy plants.

It’s a cool infographic and worth checking out (click the thumbnail here to see the whole thing)…and when you turn off your lights tonight, take a minute to think about this stuff…

Smart Parking

Finding a parking spot in a crowded city just got a whole lot easier!  San Francisco has embedded magnetic sensors under 8200 parking spaces throughout the city, to detect the presence of a car, and has made this information available to all at the SFpark website.  It doesn’t show individual spots, but gives a block by block status of congestion, with estimated number of spaces available in each, along with the parking rates for different times of day.  Pretty cool!  And yes, ‘there’s an app for that‘ too…

Light-trapping nanoshells

Scientists at Stanford are exploring an unusual method of increasing solar cell efficiency – they’re using hollow silicon spheres to help trap the light that would otherwise be reflected.  Trapping the light in this manner allows more of it to ultimately be absorbed, increasing overall effectiveness.  You can even stack up multiple layers of these tiny spheres to further improve efficiency.  Hard to say if and when this will make it to the commercial market, but it does help show there’s a lot of research going into solar energy…a future without fossil fuels is an ever-increasing probability.  (via Gizmag)