It wasn’t long ago when safety belts were a new innovation in automotive technology. Simply understanding that restraining individuals in their vehicles during a crash could assist in saving their lives was a major discovery.
Today, new breakthroughs are being made in automotive technology. Now there’s everything from airbags to pre-crash mitigation systems, and some of these systems require little if any effort on the part of passengers or drivers to function. Side curtain airbags and motorized retractable safety belts are just the beginning of a new generation of automotive engineers’ inventions.
At the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, a one-piece electronic Integrated Center Panel with dual-zone controls and display and an intuitive Human Machine Interface (HMI) technology was demonstrated. This display inspired the engineers who envisioned it and could even be integrated with advanced safety systems throughout the vehicle.
Crash sensing, lane departure and forward collision warning, blind spot detection and active night vision may reach the mass market sooner than most would expect. In fact, many new systems, such as adaptive cruise control and collision detection technology, are already offered as options on the consumer vehicle market.
Helping further advance consumer vehicle technology, automotive engineers who have worked in other market segments, such as government and military, sometimes apply their outside expertise to the high-volume consumer vehicle markets. For example, those with unique experience in complex military radar systems have become forerunners in making similar features attainable to the public in their vehicles.
Adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning could, quite possibly, be the greatest safety system yet for the high-volume consumer vehicle market. This technology can warn drivers when the possibility of an imminent accident is detected. How? By using radar to monitor vehicles ahead and warning the driver of the equipped vehicle when approaching slower moving or stopped traffic. Drivers can also set a gap they want to maintain between their own vehicles and those ahead. The warning system then issues an alert when that gap dips below the predetermined setting.
Crashes do happen, however. If the collision warning system senses that one is unavoidable, the pre-crash mitigation system enacts safety precautions such as automatic braking and pretensioning safety belts, before the impact, to help reduce crash severity.
As these safety systems become increasingly available to the average consumer, it gets easier to add more devices to the same vehicle. Integrating a new feature for, say, intelligent headlights, is a lot easier once the cameras and sensors are already in place for other safety systems. Using the same sensors for multiple functions and features helps decrease costs while increasing system functionality.
It’s hard to imagine how all this technology could keep driving costs down, but according to The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, $230.6 billion was exhausted on motor vehicle crashes in the year 2000. Twenty-eight million vehicles were damaged, and nearly 42 thousand people died. Furthermore, in 2004, 2.7 million passenger vehicles were involved in side-impact crashes and more than 9,000 people were killed in them, according the Institute for Highway Safety. Shaving off even a small percentage of any of these statistics could have a major impact, not only on the lives of millions of people but on everything from state budgets to auto insurance premiums.