It was the perfect storm: A technology reporter rents a car-share Toyota hybrid that’s accessed and unlocked by the renter’s smartphone and an onboard modem. Rented in California, no less, which is ground zero for technology. Reporter and partner then drive into a remote coastal area, but still in California, hike to the beach, return, and the app won’t unlock the car. Reporter calls carshare company Gig Car Share on cellphone, carshare company says there’s not enough cell service to unlock or reset/resync the car.
The resolution was to send a physical tow truck to haul the Toyota back into cell reach that worked for the Toyota and the company. Except it’s apparently also harder to resync the car when it’s more than 50 miles from home, and there’s a cap on how many times the car be resynced or reset in a single day.
And you’re surprised there were problems with a smartphone vote-tally app in Iowa?
passing the time reading this article about goats in the local paper pic.twitter.com/IppBPh9RU0
— Kari Paul (@kari_paul) February 17, 2020
Everyone who’s been taken down by technology run amok can take to Twitter or Facebook and sound off. Kari Paul has the added advantage of being a West Coast reporter for The Guardian, and what British publication wouldn’t like a juicy story about how messed up things are in their former colonies under the reign of the emperor Trump, as they might see it. Read her story in full here in The Guardian online and note the tips jar at the bottom.
Basically, everything that could go wrong, did. Safeguards to keep the car from being absconded with also kept it from being set straight. And the car-share software didn’t take into account the very real odds that Californians would drive the car to scenic areas of the state where cell service remains spotty, even along the popular Highway 1.
six hours, two tow trucks, and 20 calls to customer service later apparently it was a software issue and the car needed to be rebooted before we could use it @internetofshit pic.twitter.com/LZBZQwRJk8
— Kari Paul (@kari_paul) February 17, 2020
In her story, Paul notes these issues:
- The software that works so well in San Francisco-Oakland doesn’t work so well a couple hours away. Notwithstanding this is the most populous state in the US and with the most cellphones.
- To offer customers the “best experience” (Gig’s words), cars are resynced automatically every 24 hours. Don’t resync the car and Gig can’t help you, even if the problem was the car was able to drive to an area with little or no cell service, as there’s no get-out-of-jail software key that lets you drive the car back into coverage range.
- “… the car cannot be re-synced easily if it is more than 50 miles outside of the ‘HomeZone’, out of cell range, or if the vehicle is moving,” Paul writes. In other words: gotcha.
- An engineer who didn’t want to be named told her, “It works great if you have a dependable cell connection.”
- There’s the lunacy that Paul could make a cellphone call for help while standing next to her Prius, but the carshare company couldn’t send a reset code or any other packets that would turn the Prius back into a drivable vehicle.
- Finally, Gig had the car towed back to her Airbnb, which had Wi-Fi, but “our wifi was useless in restarting the vehicle, which needed to be synced through the cellular network.”
Ultimately, Paul writes, “five hours, two tow trucks, and more than 20 phone calls to Gig’s customer service line later, we got the car to start again.”
In a final call to a Gig rep, Paul says she got this suggestion: “Can I give you one more piece of advice? Get the hell out of there – now.”
Postscript 1: Afterwards, Gig told Paul she could have ordered an RFID card that will start the car. Just do it two weeks before you take that spontaneous weekend trip.
Postscript 2: Paul writes, “A spokesman from AAA, which is the parent company of Gig, apologized by email for the experience [and said], ‘We are committed to improving our service and customer care, and will assess this situation for learnings.’”
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