Continental Corp
Big Blue and Big Brother

If you don't like the thought of Big Brother knowing how fast you drive down the open highway, you'll want to cross the United Arab Emirates off of your list of possible retirement location choices.

If you don't like the thought of Big Brother knowing how fast you drive down the open highway, you'll want to cross the United Arab Emirates off of your list of possible retirement location choices. That's because the Arabian kingdom may be farther along than any other country in the widespread use of automotive data recorders to detect speeding violations. Beginning in early 2007, the UAE will phase-in a requirement that obliges every car owner in the country to have a data recorder installed in his vehicle to track vehicle speed and location via an embedded GPS chip. Under this mandate, the first two violations garner nothing more than a polite warning. The third, however, causes an automatic cellular transmission to the authorities and a ticket soon follows in the mail. IBM designed the system, and Erich Nickel, director of Global Telematics Solutions, says that, with a total market of about one million vehicles, this application will be largest of its kind in the world. That could make UAE a test bed for any government looking to institute similar black box requirements in the future. Nickel explains that while the clear purpose is to reduce highway deaths, IBM is looking to expand the functionality of the boxes beyond speeding enforcement by adding features like hands-free calling and navigation services. The idea is to make government tracking of private citizens a little more palatable by giving people some services they actually want. IBM is also experimenting with a smart card activation system that would be tied to driver's licenses, to make it more likely that the correct person is being fined. Two versions of the black box currently are under development: one includes a screen that flashes a bright red warning whenever the speed limit is exceeded, the other is a no-frills unit that only offers a warning tone.—KEW