Battery assault

I meant everything I said last time about how much I love batteries. But there’s one aspect to the electronification of our world that concerns me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve loved science fiction since birth, but you won’t find a bigger fan of technology than yours truly. I’ll take more science high-tech advances that make my life better as fast as they can come out with them, and digital battery-powered tools and accessories are always welcome in my shop and home.

It’s been a decade since we last bought a new car (we run them into the ground before replacing them), but we’re car shopping right now. I’m amazed at the amount of technology that’s not only available for cars now, but the sheer amount of it that comes standard. But for the first time, a bit of this high tech stuff makes me nervous.

The key element in what’s bothering me is just that: keys. Several cars we’ve looked at don’t have them anymore. They have the familiar key fob, the thing with the buttons you clip onto your key ring, but there’s no actual key to open, lock and operate the car. Instead, that fob is an all-encompassing operational device that would make Starfleet Command proud. With this thing just sitting in your pocket you walk up to your locked car and just open the door. Somehow, the car knows that fob is walking up to it and obligingly unlocks itself. Once inside, the car senses the fob in your pocket and automates the ignition process, and to start the car you just push a button. I’ve never seen anything so cool.

But what happens if you’re on a picnic – or, worse, on the interstate in the middle of nowhere – and the fob battery dies? When a battery dies in the shop that just means my cordless drill won’t work. Pop it into the charger for five minutes and I’m up and running with minimal charge; a full charge doesn’t take much longer. While I’m waiting, I can just pull a battery of one of my other tools and snap it into the drill. But those little car fobs use tiny hearing-aid batteries, of which I generally don’t have any spares. And if your car goes electronically DOA in the boonies because the fob battery is dead, I’m wondering how many 7-11s carry a replacement.

I’m sure the car manufacturers have worked out those issues. (Perhaps those fobs give you plenty of warning the battery’s getting weak, or something like that.) But for the first time in my long, science-fictional life, an aspect of technology has me just a little worried.



  • Steve B says:

    Not only that, but rest assured that when you drop it into the toilet by mistake, that fancy fob is going to cost you $600+ to replace!

  • Ed says:

    Not to worry. My wife and I have two vehicles with PCCs (Personal Car Communicators). We’ve been san-keys for four years now and you don’t know what you’re missing until you used this convenience for a while.

    We were traveling recently and rented a car without a PCC. Every time we approached the car we had to fumble around to find the key! The trunk didn’t open, doors didn’t open and the car didn’t start without finding that darn key.

    As for the battery; a warning message on our dash had been alerting us to the fact that our PCC battery was low and failing and it continued to do that for almost an entire year before it finally did. Plenty of time to buy a replacement.

  • Howard Rosenberg says:

    That’s NOTHING!

    Have you seen the stero and HVAC controls?
    In a car!
    With no tactile feedback.
    Nary a rotary knob in sight. You’ve gotta take your eyes off the road waaaay too long for my tastes. I know I sound like I’m one inch away from yelling dagnabbit at the kids who cross my lawn but a return to simpler controls wouldn’t hurt.

  • Nancy Kroes says:

    That would be my concern too. I test drove one of the cars offering that technology last week. I asked about a key and was shown that the fob actually opened up and a “key” was inside for those cases when you need it. But I still think that particular technology is one I would rather live without. Are we becoming incapable of pushing a button on the fob to unlock the door (I don’t want to give that up!) and do we have no time to insert a key into the ignition?

  • A.J. Hamler says:

    Steve — Just curious, but how else would you drop it into a toilet, other than by mistake.

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