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Photo Radar Gadget and Plastic Work Seat Make Life Worth Living

By Jim Bray
August 23, 2008

Whether high tech or low tech, there's a gadget for just about every occasion these days. It seems that, wherever there's a need perceived, there's an inventor who wants to fill it.

Two car-related cases in point are the "non radar" radar detector from PhantomAlert and the Rugged Roll Work Seat from Step2, two decidedly different solutions to very different challenges, but both of which are pretty cool ideas.

The "non radar" detector is the NavAlert, a $200 device that looks like a radar detector, but which can be used where radar detectors are outlawed. That's because it isn't a radar detector at all. Instead, it's a GPS receiving device with a database built in that includes some 150,000 red light camera and known locations known to be frequented by The Man with his and/or her radar guns and cameras.

It's a pretty nifty solution that seems to work, mostly. It won't save your bacon if the cops set up a radar trap that isn't in the database (as I discovered to my chagrin), but it'll warn you to either slow down or keep your eyes peeled if it is registered.  

And if you get zapped a previously unreported trap, you can log onto the company's website at and report the new location, which may be included in subsequent updates to the database you can download to keep your NavAlert up to date.

According to company president Joe Scott, the database was developed by drivers helping other drivers – a conspiracy of scofflaws that sets my heart a-flutter. Scott told me that each location in the database was and is contributed by a driver and verified later by other drivers, presumably to prevent false alarms.  

That reminds me, I have something to report…

You can check it out at their website, which includes a North American map you can use to verify, edit, or gainsay. And the company says you can subscribe to the database by itself, downloading it to your existing GPS/Navigation device if it has the capacity for such updating. Ditto for laptops or cellphones, apparently, though I haven't tried it.

NavAlertThe unit is pretty straightforward. It hooks into your vehicle via what in freer times was called a cigarette lighter and has a little magnetic base you can stick onto your dashboard to keep the NavAlert from flying into your face the first time you corner.

On one side is the USB interface (though it isn't the usual type of mini-USB connector we've come to know and love), the mode selector (Safe, which offers the most info; Camera, which just hollers out camera positions; and Download, for updates). There's also a menu button.

Using the menu button lets you do such stuff as setting and/or displaying the time and/or date, distance travelled or time elapsed since you fired up the thing, your maximum or average speeds, your direction, altitude, etc.

Pretty slick, huh?

The other side has the volume control for the synthesized voice that hollers "Red Light Camera!" or "Possible Mobile!" when you approach such zones; there's also a power socket for hooking into the, er, auxiliary power outlet.

In my experience, the NavAlert doesn't distinguish direction, in that if a red light camera is pointing west, it'll still holler if you're driving east – but I'd rather have too much info than too little – and you never know when the money-grubbing civic "leaders" will install new cameras to catch the unwary. Hence the need to keep updating the thing's database, too.

There's another use for the NavAlert, too. Since its display also includes a digital speedometer readout, you can use it to compare your GPS-calculated speed with your vehicle's speedometer's readout. I tried this in a couple of different vehicles I was testing and discovered that in each of them there was a discrepancy, with the NavAlert showing that I was going more slowly than the vehicle's speedometer claimed.

Unfortunately, and as mentioned above, this feature bit me in the butt. The radar of the cop who pulled me over claimed I was doing about 45 (naturally, it was a 30 zone), whereas when I'd peeked at the NavAlert mere seconds before (I was, in fact, monitoring it for just such information) it said I was doing about 35 – still speeding, but usually within the "margin of human decency". I couldn't prove the NavAlert was right, nor could I prove I hadn't been accelerating when I got zapped – and in the end I figured it was pointless to argue over whose display is more accurate, our justice system being what it is. I took the ticket.

You'd think I could write it off as a business expense, but I shan't hold my breath.

Rugged Roll WorkseatThat put a sour taste on what was otherwise a rewarding test for which the NavAlert performed well. And I can't really blame the NavAlert, since it doesn't claim to be a radar detector.

Guess I need to review one of them next…

Stool Pigeon

Meanwhile, the Rugged Roll Workseat is a decidedly low tech device, but it's one that can be a "back saver" if not a "ticket and/or life saver".The $35 unit is made of heavy duty plastic that reminds me of those orange and black plastic toy riding tractors my son used to freak us out with when he was just a nipper, by driving down steep hills with gay abandon. Okay, exuberant abandon.

It's ostensibly designed for when you're working around the garage, but when we received our sample unit my wife began scheming about prying it from my warm, live hands to use out in the garden. This caused me to do a web search to find some Agent Orange….

Anyway, the red and black unit is big enough to hold even my ass, has a built in carrying handle (well, it's actually just a slit in the top though which you can stick your fingers) and – proving just how important and thoughtful the product really is – it even has a molded cup holder that's perfect for a can of beer, though you could undoubtedly put a pop can there in an emergency.

Rugged Roll WorkseatThere's also a fairly generous shelf under the seat you can use to haul around your tools, cloths and stuff.

The Work Seat's seven inch "mag-like" plastic wheels roll smoothly and the company says the unit can support more than 300 pounds. They also claim it's resistant to chemicals such as auto fluids and household cleaners, so it should wipe clean easily.

And get this! It comes with a set of decals you can stick onto it so your Work Seat doesn't look like your neighbor's, assuming your neighbor doesn't decide to stick on the same decals.  

Best of all, the Work Seat is assembled before they stick it in the box, so the handy people using it don't have to be too handy.

I can see this being ideal for when you're waxing or detailing your car, because it lets you get at those lower sections of the body – or the wheels – without having to bend down.

It isn't as good for stuff that's right at floor or ground level, though; I tried using it when cleaning the bathtub, discovered that I had to lean over too far, and went back to kneeling outside the tub while lamenting our lack of maid service.

Otherwise, the Rugged Roll Work Seat works great.

Who'd have thunk such a simple thing could be so handy?

Copyright 2008 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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