Crazy people using crazy technology to do crazy things

This column published as "April's Fools" in April 2020 issue

David Matthews / April 01, 2020
David Matthews

Automakers are competing on a global scale to bring new features and technologies to market first.

That constant pressure to innovate might be getting to some of the executives at the largest auto companies, whose recent patents have been rather … interesting.

For example, in 2017 Toyota filed a patent for an interior dispenser for aerosols ranging from fragrances (ahhh) to tear gas (wait, what?!). 

That same year, BMW patented an autonomous car washing system where flying drones descend from the sky to wash, dry, and wax your vehicle for you. 

In 2016, Ford patented an autonomous vehicle that combines everyone’s love of meetings with everyone’s love of car sickness. Instead of old-fashioned forward-facing seats, the entire passenger compartment is a round conference room with eight seats positioned around a circular table.

However, the best of the bunch comes from Google, who in 2013 patented a safety feature to minimize the impact of being hit by a car. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with sensors or lights. The product is a sticky adhesive that goes on the hood of your car, so that if/when you hit a pedestrian, they’ll remain stuck to your vehicle instead of flying over or under it. 

Of course, just because these companies were able to file a patent doesn’t mean that the features will make it to market. Or at least we hope not. 

What the hack?

One scary bit of technology that definitely won’t be receiving a patent is a device known as a keyless repeater.

That’s OK with hacker “EvanConnect,” who is still able to make and sell the device online for $12,000 each.

That’s because he claims the device can wirelessly unlock any luxury car, even ones that you don’t own.

The device works by detecting the low frequency signal that locked cars regularly emit to detect when their owner’s fob is nearby.

An accompanying relay device retransmits that signal at a higher frequency across a much longer distance, eventually connecting with the actual key fob, wherever it is, creating a long-distance bridge that connects it to the car. 

The real fob then replies to a series of security checks to verify its authenticity, and then gives the car permission to unlock and even start the motor.

Every make and model of car that can start “keylessly” is susceptible to this type of attack, but there are some easy ways to protect your ride from tech-savvy thieves.

Experts encourage drivers to keep their keys at least 15 ft away from the front door of their home so that criminals can’t get close enough to create a bridge connection, and to store those keys in an old soda can—the aluminum will block signals from going to or from the key fob.

Motown showdown

Who among us hasn’t taken advantage of an empty parking lot to try some doughnuts, burnouts, or some light car surfing?

In Detroit, though, drivers don’t wait around for parking lots to empty. They just take over the highways. 

Last year two videos went viral showing a group of amateur Detroit stunt drivers blocking traffic on the Lodge Freeway and I-94 so that they could do doughnuts in the middle of the highway.

After racking up millions of views, the videos have inspired a new wave of illegal car meets. Known as “Sunday Fundays,” the underground car rallies feature fearless drivers performing insane stunts, moving from location to location whenever the police show up.

Authorities describe the meetups as a blatant disregard for public safety, but participants insist that they give Detroiters something positive to do.

“These cars, they bring everybody together—all races, all shapes, all sizes, all colors,” Tee’s Garage owner Tommi Mahone told ClickOnDetroit.com. “When people come, it’s all like one big, happy family.”

Videos from the meetups show how dangerous these family reunions can be. In one clip, a car flips and catches fire. Other videos show people being hit by vehicles while trying to film them or just standing in the audience.

Still, residents like Mahone are petitioning city officials for an off-road area where drivers can continue their fun without blocking traffic or being hassled by police.

And as for pedestrian safety, well, Google has a solution for that.

About the Author

Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.

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