Short of a simple rear-end collision, liability in car accidents can be difficult to prove. However, a new breed of products eliminates some of the confusion by recording video and GPS data to show what actually happened. The X-Driven DRS-1100 Drive Recorder is such a product. It constantly records driving data, but only saves a file when triggered by a specific event, either a significant shock or the user pressing the emergency button on the unit. By default, the saved file includes 10 seconds of video and GPS data before the event, and another 10 seconds after it. However, it will increase the recording time if the car is moving at high speeds.
The X-Driven DRS-1100 is slightly bigger than a typical Bluetooth speakerphone and has a nicely contoured black plastic case. Its front end is thicker than the rest of the device because its camera lens protrudes out. Since you mount the device to a car's windshield, in the cabin behind the rearview mirror, you can adjust the camera angle slightly up or down. That adjustment is particularly important, as the mounting bracket is fixed. In a car with a near vertical windshield, the X-Driven DRS-1100 camera could not be adjusted to get a forward view.
Two indicator LEDs, blue for the GPS signal and red for power, are on the bottom of the device, next to the emergency button that lets the driver record a file even when an accident hasn't occurred. A covered SD card slot sits on one side of the device, while a port for the power cable is mounted in the other. The most problematic aspect of mounting the X-Driven DRS-1100 in a car is its power cable. It must run from the device to a 12-volt power point. Fortunately, the company provides a very long power cable and several sticky cable ties, so the cable could be run along the edge of the windshield.
There is a software component for viewing footage from the device that is included on a 4GB SD card. The viewer software lets you select any of the files recorded by the DRS-1100, showing the video footage along with a Google map of the car's position during the footage. The software uses standard play, skip, and pause controls for viewing its footage. On the negative side, files from the device are just presented in a list, with obscure names. Using the date and time as names would be helpful, as the number of files accumulates quickly. The software shows the car's speed, which you can toggle between miles or kilometers per hour by clicking the speed display.
The company that distributes the X-Driven DRS-1100 is called CarBlackboxStore.com, and that black box idea is echoed in the product. While driving, it constantly records video and GPS data. However, it only saves that data, in 20 second clips, when it registers an event--usually some kind of shock to the device. You can also manually activate recording by pushing the emergency button on the bottom of the DRS-1100.
The software viewer lets you browse files and view the footage from each event. It takes the GPS data and correlates it with a Google map, helping establish precisely where each 20 second clip of footage was taken. The Google map interface is interactive, letting you zoom in. The events that trigger the footage actually mark the midpoint of the recording, as the DRS-1100 saves 10 seconds before the event and 10 seconds after it. You can adjust how many seconds of video are saved both before and after the triggering event in the settings menu.
You can save files onto different drives, and give them more logical names than that provided by the device. The saved files use the extension ub1, a proprietary format that combines video and GPS information. There are also buttons to take a snapshot at any given point in the footage, or print out the screen. The ub1 files generated by the device can also be exported as a simple avi movie file, although these files will only show the video taken by the camera, and none of the attendant GPS information.
While driving, the device stays quiet, although the red LED blinks whenever it saves an event. During an excursion out to test the device, we noticed that light blinking frequently, leading us to suspect that the DRS-1100 has a fairly low threshold for registering an event. Monitoring it a bit more closely, we saw the device trigger its recording mode when we made a hard turn or went over a pothole.
As expected, when we took the SD Card out and viewed its files with the viewer software, we found a large number of events, making it difficult to find a specific one. Fortunately, clicking each file entry brings up a snapshot from the video with the date and time of the event.
The video footage is clean enough to get a good idea of what might have happened during an accident, at least from the front of the vehicle. The camera uses a wide angle lens, but it wouldn't show if someone hit you from the side or the rear, although if you were in such an accident, it could show if you were following the traffic laws at the time of the event, such as if you crossed an intersection with the light green and got hit by cross-traffic. We really like how the Google map component provides an accurate path for the car, showing the streets the car was traveling.
Loading files into the view is a bit rough. You have to load a file named _system.mdb from the SD Card to see the saved event files. You can save event files off to a hard drive or other location. But they won't appear in the same list format as the files on the SD card, instead requiring a different file open button to view each one individually.