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The new car stereo is -- the noise cancelling headphone


Probably the most expensive add-on that people get in their cars today is the stereo. Long ago, cars often came without stereos and there was a major aftermarket. The aftermarket is still here but most people elect for factory stereos which fit in seamlessly with the car and often cost a huge amount of money.

The car's not a great place to listen to music -- it's noisy and you are distracted and you often stop and have to get out in the middle of a song. But because people find they listen to more music in their cars than at home, they often pay huge bucks for a fancy car stereo. (Not counting the people who deliberately buy a system so loud it's meant for other people outside the car to hear.)

While you could put a nice stereo system in a robocar, and some people will, another way they can save money is they don't need to have much audio at all, not once they can do full-auto operation. The prohibition on headphones by the driver should go away, and it could become popular to just use nice headphones -- possibly noise cancelling headphones or in-ear noise-blocking phones. A better audio experience with much less noise, and a lot cheaper too. And there is the option for each person in the car to have their own headphones and tune their own audio stream.

People will like to share, so the car might contain a simple audio distribution system to feed audio streams to people who are sharing, though the source of the music should still be somebody's phone or device, not something built into the car. In addition, there could be a system to mix in some of the in-cabin audio, so you can still hear the other people when they talk. Microphones on each person's headphones could pick up their voices and actually provide a clearer read of their voices. Headphones with position sensors could allow simulation of stereo on the other people. Alternately a microphone array could exist around the car, particularly at each seat.

There are some downsides to push things into the traditional way:

  • Wearing headphones is uncomfortable on long trips
  • They are a pain to remember to put on. You want to avoid cords, so they would be wireless, but then you must be sure to put them in their charging dock.
  • On small aircraft, there is so much noise that everybody does it this way, but they tend to be bulky (due to the high noise) and unpopular for that reason

So people might elect to still have decent speakers and listen to music without headphones. But there is less need to buy a really expensive sound system, since if you want the top quality you probably want to go for the headphones. This may also apply to decisions to do expensive sound elimination in the car. For some, nothing may change, but that's OK. What's interesting is the option to do car sound in ways never done before.


Is this going to be as big a deal when all or most cars are electric? Sure, at highway speeds there's more noise from pavement friction and wind resistance than from internal combustion engines (muscle cars and heavy vehicles excepted), but driving around town at lower speeds the interior of an electric vehicle will be much quieter. I'd think the fuss of putting on headphones and dealing with either their cords or batteries would be outweighed for the majority of people by the decent enough sound they get from car speakers inside a relatively quiet electric vehicle.

Don't forget how high a percentage of people put up with regular terrestrial commercial radio and factory standard car stereos, right now. That "least hassle" and "free" lowest common denominator is a big incentive for the average, run of the mill consumer.

Some may like the convenience of just listening (with noise.) Many non-drivers wear headphones in the car all the time, of course, usually just earbuds to their phone.

One key difference is that today, if the driver wants audio, it has to come from speakers, and everybody has to listen to it. What the robocar changes is that the "driver" can have phones too, and everybody can listen to different music or video if they wish, notably kids vs. parents. People do like to share but that is possible with headphones if done well.

The other big realization is that this can be cheap compared to a $2,000 sound system in the car, and better audio. That should beat out the inconvenience of the headphones for many. I imagine phones with small storage areas with inductive charging. The car would have a mixer that would take audio from various sources (ie. BT from the various phones in the car) and mux it out to the headphones, or the speakers, which will be there, but need not be audiophile quality

Surveillence car "drivers" will still not be able to wear
headphones, as they need to be able to hear the sirens
of approaching emergency vehicles so they can take control
of the vehicle and cede right-of-way should it be necessary.

Of course, you are going to suggest that emergency vehicles
broadcast some kind of signal that surveillence cars will
detect and respond to, without any considerations of the
cost of adding such a system to all emergency vehicles, or
the fact that such a system could be hacked with potentially
unfortunate consequences.

No, I am presuming that a car which is at the level capable of unmanned operation (or sleeping human operation) is able to detect sirens and respond to them (or alert the occupant over their headphones.)

That's not something that is present to day. An unmanned car has to be able to do it.

Actually, there are already plans to have emergency vehicles do that, and in fact many of them do it already, through a strobe light system which the traffic lights see. That's a simple system, easier to hack, but I don't see hacking this signal as a big problem. You want to send out a fake signal so that all the cars will pull over, while they also record video of you as you go by doing this with the people in the car swearing at you and filing police complaints with that video?

Or do you just want to cause disruption? You could do that with greater safety but as long as the hack isn't particularly easy I don't see a big problem. You could do it now by just making a siren noise. (As you could in the future to cars that listen for that.) The siren noise is far more hackable.

Who said anything about "driving by" or safety?

Be it sirens or something else, do you think it's a good idea
to have a mechanism that will result in the car automatically
pulling over to the side of the road in response to some
easily spoofed external signal? That kind of "feature" simply
has too much potential for all kinds of abuse, from malicious
denial of service disruptions to facilitating criminal acts
like robbery, assault, or worse.

If there are people in the car, they would notice the car slowing and saying it was pulling over for a siren. If they did not see the emergency vehicle, they could override. If there is nobody in the car it's not a big inconvenience.

Do you want to try to rob an empty car which is recording video of you doing it?

On one hand you claim that robocars will be so capable and
reliable that the occupants can be inattentive about their
surroundings to the point of sleeping, and on the other you
state that the hijacking of a robocar through fraudulent
triggering of an automatic "pull over" mechanism can be
avoided by using an override when the passengers realize
what is happening. You cannot have it both ways.

Anyone criminal enough to commit such a hijacking is not
going to care one wit about cameras, because they can
approach from a direction that is not covered by a camera,
wear masks or disguises, and destroy any recordings once
they have commandeered the vehicle.

When it comes to having a reason for hijacking an empty
vehicle, the robocar itself would certainly be a big enough
prize. It can be dismantled and sold as parts, or even
melted down for scrap metal. Of course this already happens
now with stolen cars. And with robotic delivery trucks,
there is the extra bonus of whatever cargo they carry.

But the biggest failing in your logic is that you think
there has to be a good reason or some profit motive for
someone to trigger a robocar's automatic "pull over"
mechanism designed to avoid emergency vehicles. No such
requirement is needed. Many criminal acts are performed
without reason or gain to the perpetrator. The shooting of
an Australian in Oklahoma, and the beating death of a World
War II veteran in Washington, are but two recent examples.

If robocars are equipped with such a mechanism, it can and
WILL be abused.

I see no problem here. If a car decides it has to pull over because it has heard a siren, the occupants will certainly notice this if awake (even if engrossed in a movie.) If they are sleeping, they could be woken up if they think there is a serious problem of hijackings, but if there is not, they probably will prefer to sleep through it.

There is probably no direction not covered by sensors, but do you really think there is a large danger of masked assailants sending out wailing police sirens to get cars with sleeping people in them to pull over so they can attack? Why would this be a big concern? In spite of news reports, carjacking is quite rare. Piracy of unmanned vehicles is an issue which I have written about on the other hand. If it becomes frequent in some areas, the vehicles may just start avoiding those areas, which is a burden on those who live there.

There are random crimes, but they are exceedingly rare in the developed world. I would not imagine seriously crippling our systems because of them.

One thing that can happen is that any car that pulls over for a siren will inform its masters (and the police) that it is doing so, even if the occupants are absent or asleep and have asked not to be disturbed. It will go into a mode where it broadcasts its video feed if need be. Police might think, "that's odd, we don't have any emergency vehicle in emergency siren mode at that location." And yes, the police will know that -- the emergency vehicles will all be networked well in advance of the robocars coming, I suspect, and they will have GPS logs, and they will tell HQ every time they turn on a siren. So a fake siren will be very obvious and the car might be told, "We show no record of a siren at your location. Please send more data, alert your occupants and proceed with caution."

Thanks. The restriction on headphones by the driver should go away, and it could become popular to just use nice headphones —

Why not to use an individual speakers and microphone integrated into the headrest? Probably noise cancelling feauture is also possible with that kind of layout. Individual for passenger this solution can be quite useful for robotaxis..

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