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February 28, 2011 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Fifth Wheel Driving! [SLYT]
posted by Fizz (20 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why is so much of engineering dedicated to solving problems the wrong way?

Problem: Cars are getting too big to park easily.
Solution: Devote more of the car's volume to a parking system, forcing manufacturers to increase the size even more just to keep the apparent interior volume constant.
posted by DU at 6:12 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"He calls this device the 'Park Car'"

What? Is that really what he said? Can we safely assume that they didn't have PR think tanks and brainstorming marketing meetings in the 50's then?
posted by Brockles at 6:33 AM on February 28, 2011


What? Is that really what he said? Can we safely assume that they didn't have PR think tanks and brainstorming marketing meetings in the 50's then?

Let's please brainstorm some alternative names for this vehicle.
posted by Fizz at 6:34 AM on February 28, 2011


I think "Fifth Wheel" captures the spirit perfectly.
posted by DU at 6:37 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Problem: Spare wheels don't do enough hard work, making the other tires jealous.
Solution: Make them earn their keep by making both parallel parking and donuts easier to achieve.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:44 AM on February 28, 2011


Make them earn their keep by making both parallel parking and donuts easier to achieve.

And also burn outs.

Let's please brainstorm some alternative names for this vehicle.

The Behemoth-o-sideshuffle.
posted by Brockles at 6:49 AM on February 28, 2011


I love the voice over. That guy just has it. I wonder how many educational films I saw that had that exact same tome.
posted by cccorlew at 7:13 AM on February 28, 2011


I love the voice over. That guy just has it. I wonder how many educational films I saw that had that exact same tome.

You should check out Don Morrow, professional voice training.
posted by Fizz at 7:19 AM on February 28, 2011


DU: Why is so much of engineering dedicated to solving problems the wrong way?
It's true that this was a ridiculous idea, but that's what makes this an amusing post. A post about a good, widely accepted and commonly implemented idea wouldn't be as interesting. It's also true that this idea did not ultimately succeed in the marketplace. In fact, cars did get smaller.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:24 AM on February 28, 2011


I dunno, I think the fact this wasn't implemented is kind of a side-issue. I've definitely found non-solutions in the real world. For that matter, if you look at the history of technology it is absolutely brim-ful of non-solutions. Look at XML, for instance.
posted by DU at 7:32 AM on February 28, 2011


It looks like this fifth wheel takes up the whole trunk too. Nice sight gag, but otherwise awful. Nice post :D
posted by The Devil Tesla at 7:34 AM on February 28, 2011


Why is so much of engineering dedicated to solving problems the wrong way?

Well that's better than the actual way that America solved the parallel parking problem which was building huge suburban shopping centers and housing plans all without street parking. If you live out in the sprawl, you can go years without ever knowing how to park. Have you ever watched a suburbanite attempt to parallel park their SUV or Minivan on a city street when they venture into the city for a concert or game? It's not pretty.
posted by octothorpe at 7:43 AM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Look at XML, for instance.

Hey! Sometimes XML is worth it just for XPATH alone...
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:51 AM on February 28, 2011


Hey! Sometimes XML is worth it just for XPATH alone...

Well yes, that's exactly how we progress. We have a bunch of unworkable systems each having bad features and good features. Nobody looks at the whole thing, of course, but somebody is close to some system and decides to reject the bad parts and use the good parts. They succeed, to some extent that isn't relevant to my point, and then someone else decides to use that omglatestawesomething in a completely inappropriate manner. It is ill-suited to that, obviously, which makes some formerly good features now look like bad features. So someone decides to build a new system that rejects the bad parts and uses the good parts and we go around again.

OR, nobody rejects the bad parts because of (usually merely perceived) inertia and we build more and more technology on sand when we could have built it on the right solution in the first place.

I've seen it everywhere but I've been thinking about it more and more, especially at work where we seem absolutely determined to throw away perfectly usable code and technologies to rewrite things in Java without even any claimed basis for the change, let alone any real basis. Naturally the new version is 1/10th as powerful, is full of bugs, doesn't play well with anything and requires an army temps to create, who are then fired to let the program rot.
posted by DU at 8:03 AM on February 28, 2011


The idea hasn't been lost, here's a modded renault 5 doing the same, in an unspecified middle eastern country.
posted by charles kaapjes at 8:10 AM on February 28, 2011


I've recently been looking at the history of technologies in automobiles. Airbags were patented in 1953, started to make it into production in the 1970s, didn't become mainstream 'til, what, '89 or so? And we had those stupid strangler seatbelt "passive restraint systems" for several years after that.

The precursors to the modern "Electronic Stability Control" first showed up in some GM products in 1971, Mercedes had a traction control system in 1987, but it'll be next year, 2012, before the NHTSA requires it in all cars.

The automotive world is full of such things, technologies that decades to go from proof of concept to marketable product. Heck, I remember in high school, getting out of a friend's car, and we all grabbed the back bumper and bounced the car into place 'cause he couldn't parallel park worth a damn.

So where y'all see a useless implementation of technology for its own sake, I see a genius ahead of his time...
posted by straw at 8:25 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


My grandfather had that Cadillac. It was a hell of a car. Enormous inside, with hydraulic windows. Most intriguing was the fuel fill under the tip-up tail light. I had visions of inheriting it , but it is just as well I didn't since obviously I wouldn't have been able to park it.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:59 AM on February 28, 2011


His 'third wheel' remains an awkward problem in search of a solhtion.
posted by zippy at 9:15 AM on February 28, 2011


DU: I've definitely found non-solutions in the real world. For that matter, if you look at the history of technology it is absolutely brim-ful of non-solutions. Look at XML, for instance.
It's certainly easy to find examples of questionable or sub-optimal engineering solutions that have become commonplace for reasons that can be characterized broadly as "path dependency." Those examples are often downright offensive to anyone who thinks about design and what could have been. So they stand out very clearly in the memory.

But I think you're forgetting just how completely permeated by engineering our daily lives really are. The paper coffee cup that many people buy and discard every day is an engineered artifact, as is the material its made of, the factory that made it, and the supply chain that got it to your local coffee shop. Countless dull staff meetings, reams of engineering documents, and an endless, Kafka-esque grind of testing and quality control lie behind that cup. And the best-case scenario for the designers and engineers responsible is that the user doesn't really notice the cup at all.

Most technologies that are popular with mainstream, non-specialist users become popular because they work well enough that users can take them for granted. Which they do.

What other yardstick really matters? Maybe the marketing people do understand one thing that most geeks (perversely) do not: That the most precious resource of all is human attention. If your engineering solution allows human attention to be directed elsewhere, it's more likely to succeed than a solution that does not.

That may be one reason the fifth-wheel system never took off; it would be a new control paradigm for the driver to learn. Supposing it were available as an extra-cost option, a well-to-do car buyer might be better served by getting a cheaper car and spending the difference on valet parking.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:19 AM on February 28, 2011


DU: "OR, nobody rejects the bad parts because of (usually merely perceived) inertia and we build more and more technology on sand when we could have built it on the right solution in the first place."

There's a lot of truth in this statement. A lot of fuel could be saved (and manufacturing costs cut) if cars were made of lighter advanced composite materials. But no one wants to be the first guy on the road in a lighter car for safety reasons, in the case of an accident with an older, heavier car.

It's silly when you think about it, everyone driving around in huge metal tanks that eat up lots of fuel in order to be able to move around all the extra weight. The technology exists to revolutionize at least the personal transportation industry, but the inertia is too hard to overcome.
posted by Rickalicioso at 5:24 PM on February 28, 2011


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