Will Cars Eventually Spray Thieves with Tear Gas?

This is one of those ideas that needs some work, but for the futurists among us it is a step in the right direction. The idea also might reduce the amount of noise coming from critics of Apple Computer who have bemoaned the loss of Steve Jobs and the innovation that has defined Apple as a company.

The originator of the idea and current patent applicant is car manufacturer Toyota. They have developed a device that will let you choose which of your favorite fragrances you can spritz in your car while driving. There are a few models of cars that already do this, but Toyota is taking things up a notch. There are plans that will take this basic idea and extend it into a car’s self-defense system against theft.

First, we have to state where Apple fits into the picture here. Apple has had facial recognition on its iPhones for several years now, and Toyota is using that as part of the process to allow your car to defend itself. This is an innovation on top of an innovation, and one that is practical. Apple’s future may lie in simply allowing other companies to build on its existing technologies, such as their continued efforts to revive the smart home platform HomeKit.

Now for the car defense process. There are three essential components to the process: a smartphone, facial recognition software, and the Toyota fragrance dispenser currently in the patent process. Your smartphone has a key that matches one stored in your car’s system. Once the car recognizes your smartphone, you can access the car. Then the facial recognition software takes over and checks to see if your facial image matches what is stored in the car’s system. If there is a match you can drive off and choose the fragrance of your choice. If not, and you attempt to start the vehicle, a spray of tear gas is what’s in store for you.

A simple enough concept but as usual, there are some bugs to be worked out.

The first is that if your friend wants to use your car but their name isn’t in the database, an unfriendly greeting awaits them. A possible solution is to be able to turn the system off from your smartphone, but that would allow someone who stole your smartphone to do the same thing and steal your car. As for password protection, the last thing we need is one more password to remember.

But suppose the thief actually gets the car started while temporarily disoriented by the tear gas? One possibility is the thief could wreck your car and do some damage to neighboring vehicles. But there is a looming legal issue with the tear gas itself. Pepper spray is not legal in every state, so how will Toyota manage an exemption for those states? As pepper spray experts know, not all pepper sprays are created equal, adding yet another complication.

Since the sprays will be regulated by the car’s computer system, what happens if someone gets sprayed by a computer malfunction while driving, spraying tear gas instead of fragrance while going 65 miles an hour down a busy highway? Recalls of mechanical failures are becoming increasingly common, the most recent issue being faulty air bags which are, coincidentally, controlled by the car’s system.

The idea has huge potential because it is a more economical method of preventing thieves from stealing your car. There is also a safety factor, since the would be thief will be temporarily immobilized, giving you the opportunity to call police who will apprehend the criminal. But rather than seeing your car having a self-defense mechanism look at it as adding another layer of protection to slow up a car thief and redirect their efforts to a car not so equipped.

Finally, look at the legal entanglements awaiting Toyota and the approval of the device. With the company’s history of less than safe vehicles, you can be sure anything as potentially problematic as the tear gas fragrance will face a different level of legal hurdles. The device must be allowed in all 50 states since crossing a state line will require an equal amount of legal protections for both Toyota and the car owner.

This is one piece of technology that has both a sizable upside and downside.

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