07 July 2009

Black box or can of worms?

Sharp Microelectronics Europe has announced it is to launch a black box recorder designed for the domestic market.

It reminds me of comedian Tim Vine's fictional automotive black box recording of the final moments of a car crash: "Okay John, turn left at the roundabout, then go right at the second set of lights…Watch out for that aeroplane…"

Nevertheless, Sharp is taking the matter seriously and has developed a camera system capable of recording up to six hours of travel with a 180° lens. At the heart of the recorder is a 2MP cmos sensor, which enables the sensors to intervene automatically if there is a driving hazard.

All well and good, but one can't help feel that the phrase 'breach of privacy' will soon rear its apprehensive head. In April, Milton Keynes' residents displayed their resentment toward a Google Street View car, resolved only by the intervention of Her Majesty's finest officers.
Sharp describes the device as a means to provide 'passive driver assistance' and adds that it will serve primarily as 'visual aids' for drivers. However, with a 180° camera capable of recording the entire width of the road – and ccd modules delivering clear images - could such devices be seen as a breach of privacy or even be subject to abuse?

The black boxes will be launched in Japan, so it may be a while before we enjoy the benefits. According to Sharp, it's a fast growing market – with 42% annual growth. So could the potential success of black boxes eventually lead to a change in legislation whereby all vehicles are required to install such devices? Another bone of contention for the anti-id card brigade.

While there is no doubt that the black box has been designed with road safety in mind, Sharp may well have opened a can of worms in the process.

Chris Shaw

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