Vehicle safety is both a pretty big deal and a huge business. After all, you’re hurtling down the road in several thousand pounds of steel and glass — there’s a lot that can go wrong! Between distracted driving, oblivious pedestrians, and road hazards, the streets can be a dangerous place. As automotive technology gets more advanced, these new safety features — for both your car’s occupants, as well as folks outside the vehicle — will blow your mind (and hopefully, help protect it).
1. AT&T’s vibrating steering wheel
Working in partnership with Carnegie Mellon researchers, communications giant AT&T is creating a steering wheel that vibrates to give drivers important information. Using a series of actuators that can produce directional vibrations, the steering wheel could indicate things like upcoming turn instructions, thus limiting the frequency with which you’d need to take your eyes off the road.
AT&T envisions the vibrating steering wheel working in tandem with your car’s GPS navigation systems. The system would also potentially use tactile cues to indicate objects in your blind spots and potential collision hazards. It could also warn you if you’re nodding off and drifting between lanes. Unfortunately, this technology is still several years away from production.
2. Volvo’s pedestrian airbags
A lot of attention is paid to the safety of those within a car, but accidents involving pedestrians account for thousands of injuries and deaths each year. In response to tough new European standards for improving pedestrian safety, Volvo is introducing a pedestrian protection system when the new V40 comes out this May.
The sleek new passenger sedan will not only include a host of interior driver and passenger safety features, but also a unique exterior airbag system designed to reduce pedestrian injuries in the event of a collision. The hood raises slightly, and a U-shaped airbag is deployed around the windshield, hopefully cushioning the impact of anyone — or anything, in the case of large wildlife — unlucky enough to be struck by the car.
3. cellControl text blocking device
Distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents, especially among the text-savvy teenage set. Despite all the warnings (not to mention the fact that it’s illegal in many states), people still use their cell phones far too often while driving. Enter the cellControl system from Scosche, which prevents pretty much all usage of a cell phone while the car is in motion.
The $129.95 system connects to a cell phone via bluetooth and can’t be disconnected without sending a notice to the administrator. Use of a hands-free device will allow the driver to take calls while still preventing texting, using the camera, and checking email.
4. Self-driving cars
One way to eliminate hazards caused by driver error and distraction, it could be argued, is to eliminate the driver altogether. Google was awarded a patent for an autonomous car that would read its location from QR codes painted on roads. The car, which recently acquired its own driver’s license, would be able to drive itself to its destination without any further human input at all.
BMW is also working on a car that virtually drives itself. While not as fully automatic as Google’s offering, BMW’s smart car uses radar, cameras, lasers, and ultrasound to determine where it is on the road and in relation to its surroundings. This vehicle is still in the development phase but has already logged more than 3,000 miles of on-road experience.
5. Subaru’s EyeSight safety features
Subaru’s 2013 Legacy and Outback will be offered with the company’s new EyeSight technology suite, which includes a number of high-tech safety features. Adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warnings are all enabled by two cameras mounted on the inside of the vehicle’s windshield.
The cameras give the car’s on-board computer a stereoscopic view of its surroundings, allowing the computer to assess movement and proximity to potential hazards. At speeds of less than 19 mph, the system can reportedly even sense pedestrians and automatically adjust the car’s movement if the driver isn’t already doing so.
Back in the halcyon days of yore (i.e., high school in the early 1990s), Katherine Gray was part of a crack team of bleeding-edge tech geeks, music nerds, and writers convinced they were the next Tolkien.
Now she has a day job as a desktop publisher for a government contractor in the Washington DC area, a master's degree in publishing that she hopes will someday prove to be useful, and a job history that includes everything from technical writer to barista to cemetery intern. She babbles about books and shows off her photography in her personal blog at Museful.com, and is building a portrait and event photography business, which can be found at Build Your Wings Photography. She lives on the side of a mountain with her husband, a dog, several cats, and the occasional wild turkey.