Automobiles are such a part of everyday existence that they are often taken for granted. Most of us give very little thought to the numerous decades of research and innovation that have gone into transforming a horse-drawn carriage into a four-wheeled automobile with heated seats, power windows, and multi-speaker stereo systems. Creature comforts, however, are not all that has improved. With an eye toward safety and preventing car accidents, auto manufacturers have begun equipping cars with some high-tech innovations straight out of science fiction. Here is a brief look at just a few of them.
“It’s sad but true, if you drive a car on our streets and highways, sooner or later you are going to get into an accident. No matter how careful you are when you drive, there will always be someone else who is not paying attention or other unforeseen circumstances that will cause that terrible crash or pile-up” (Stewart Guss).
While distracted driving is nothing new, there are more distractions now, even inside a car. This system employs radar along with an in-vehicle camera to detect other vehicles or even pedestrians in the path of the car. When a potential collision is detected, the system engages visual and audible alarms.
Using employed with a collision detection system, brake assist either initially applies the brakes or applies additional force to the brakes to help avoid or minimize the impact of a collision.
Here's an example of how braking assist works in some Mercedes-Benz models:
Autonomous Cruise Control
This feature works with a car's cruise control when engaged to automatically adjust the speed to maintain a safe distance. On-board sensors determine the car's speed and the speed and distance of a car in front of you and will slow down the cruise control as needed.
Lane Departure Warning
Using an in-vehicle camera, laser sensors (yes, lasers!), and infrared sensors, this system alerts the driver if the car starts drifting out of its lane. In some vehicles, this will also activate a steering assist that will move the car back into the center of its lane. One note for this system is that it works with the turn signal. If a driver signals to move left, the system will not correct or alert when the car moves left. But if the turn signal is not engaged, the warning will still occur, even if the driver intentionally changes lanes.
Headlights don't get much attention, but a 2003 study in Australia of daytime running lights. Headlights have grown even smarter. In addition to daytime running lights, cars now have automatic headlights that use ambient light sensors to determine when it is dark and automatically turn on the car's lights. Some cars have also taken it further with automatic high-beam lights. This system employs an in-vehicle camera that detects oncoming headlights as well as taillights, determines the distance, and automatically turns the high beams on or off as needed.
Automobiles are not just a means of getting from A to B, but are a daily marvel of innovative technology. Along with pure electric and gas-electric hybrid engines that deliver incredible fuel economy, they are becoming even safer with advancements designed for preventing car accidents. Hidden under the hood and dashboard, or even in the rearview mirror, today's automobiles truly are the safest ever built.