New Automotive Technology to Help Improve America’s Road Safety

More than 100 Americans die every day in automobile accidents. In fact, over the last century, more have perished due to car crashes in the United States than in all the wars the country has fought. Although this is a horrible statistic, the 2006 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported the largest U.S. decline in terms of both number and percentage since 1992. This vigorous reduction is a goal that automotive engineers are striving to continue year after year.

Innovative automotive engineering can make cars safer, but at the same time, drivers must also strive for improvements. Many motorists at one time or another can recall either almost being killed on the road, stories of road-rage or helplessly observing an accident happen right in front of their very eyes. According to a 1999 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) special, Escape! Because Accidents Happen – Car Crash, the roads are, indeed, a major threat. What’s more, an automotive magazine recently published statistics which reveal that more than 95% of these accidents involve some degree of (poor) driver behavior.

Indeed, some Americans may not rank amongst the best of the world’s drivers, but it’s not entirely due to operator error, either. Poor roadway maintenance, roadway design and equipment failure have also been referenced as top factors affecting crashes. Frequently, driving behavior interacts with at least one of these other factors to produce a grave situation.

Aside from rectifying the paradox that the majority of drivers consider themselves more skillful than their counterparts, better engineering and innovative automotive technology could help improve roadway safety. Today, it is well understood that properly deployed cushions of air (i.e., airbags) can assist in saving lives. In much the same way, in the previous generation, the advantages of good restraining devices were discovered. Car navigation systems particularly aid the directionally challenged – and, what about using those fancy “carputers” for technology to help make our roads safer? Automotive engineers are answering this need by developing “active safety systems.” These systems can help reduce the number of crashes and minimize the effects of crashes that do occur.

Automotive safety is taking on a new role as active safety components are beginning to gain ground as technology and development improve. Some suppliers are developing specialized active and passive safety systems. These include forward collision and lane departure warning, electronic stability control, pre-crash mitigation, side alert systems, active night vision and road sign and pedestrian recognition – all of which do about what they sound like they should.

Imagine how different driving could be if motorists were warned before they were about to sideswipe a fellow road warrior, alerted before missing a stop sign or even just able to see what’s ahead at night. Such technologies could prove paramount to safety as humankind steps into an era of even more cars, faster speeds and the repercussions of recent population explosions.

A European study reported that 80% of drivers involved in accidents believed the other party could have done something to prevent the mishap. But what if everybody just stopped blaming each other and became better drivers? What if existing technology was utilized and built upon to reduce the number of traffic fatalities? In the end, determining fault matters more if something can be done about it, such as discovering ways to prevent other collisions.

It can be scary out there on bustling roadways. All one has to do is hop on a busy interstate or horn-chorused city street to realize roads “ain’t no horse trails.” In the chaos that is modern driving, these new “active” safety systems are promising.

Is Artificial Automotive Intelligence Already a Reality?

Imagine this scenario: you climb into your car to begin your morning commute to the office. You fasten your seat belt, start your vehicle, and begin driving. Before long, you’ve left your neighborhood behind and have merged onto the city streets. You take out your newspaper and begin reading, confident that your car will reach your destination without requiring any manual input from you.

What I’ve just described may seem laughably close to science fiction. In reality, the automotive technology needed to accomplish most of the above is already in development. Automakers are integrating artificial intelligence within their respective fleets that allow their vehicles to avoid traffic collisions, including those that involve pedestrians.

Below, we’ll explore a few of these “futuristic” technologies. I’ll describe how automobiles are communicating with other vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure in order to avoid accidents and reduce road congestion. You may be surprised by how close we are to enjoying a car-controlled driving experience.

Communicating And Networking

The main reason motorists get involved in accidents, heavy traffic conditions, and similar road problems is due to a lack of timely information. For example, another driver might run through a red light. That often results in a collision because other drivers are unprepared. Road congestion occurs because many motorists take the same streets. If they had access to information that warned them of traffic, many would take alternate routes.

A lot of automobiles are already equipped with devices that communicate with other vehicles. For example, lane change warning systems use sensors to identify the presence of other cars. If you attempt to move into a lane occupied by another, the system will either warn you, apply braking power, or influence steering control.

This type of technology is being used (on an experimental platform) to allow cars to communicate and network with buildings, traffic lights, and other infrastructure. Data is shared among them to help motorists avoid collisions and congestion.

The Automotive Safety Net

Adaptive cruise control systems already apply braking power given a driver’s proximity to objects in his or her path. A few automakers are using that same technology to add an additional level of safety.

Sensors and radar technology are installed within the automobiles. These devices scan the landscape and note the positions of other vehicles. If necessary, the computer will apply the brakes to prevent a collision. If a collision is unavoidable, the computer will adjust the seats to minimize the impact felt by the motorist.

A Little Help Steering

The technology used in lane change warning systems is being expanded to give more steering control to automobiles. For example, if you drift into another lane without engaging your turn indicator, your car’s computer can apply the brakes on one side. That will slowly move your vehicle back into your lane. It won’t be long before such technology enables your car to make turns and parallel park on its own.

While a fully automated driving experience is still decades away, automakers are designing robust systems that reduce the level of input required from us. In our lifetime, we are likely to witness a significant evolution in automotive intelligence.

Alternative Fuel Cars – The Future of Automotive Technology

The future of technology in terms of fuel consumption in the average automobile is slowly changing to allow for the development of more fuel economic, energy efficient, and even alternatively fueled vehicles alternatively fueled vehicles. While it may be a long time before alternative fuel cars are used as a commonplace means of transportation around the world, the technologies that may be used in place of the standard combustion engine are already reaching a form by which the average person may expect to see some of these technologies in their vehicles on the road very soon.

One of the technologies generating the most buzz in the automotive world is the possibility of using water as a way of powering a vehicle, and with good reason. Salt water, which is the type of water that has been used in numerous experiments about the viability of burning water as a fuel, is the most abundant natural resource available to us here on Earth, as we are almost seventy percent water on this planet. The experiments that have been conducted on the water have been somewhat successful on a smaller scale, but larger scale use in vehicles may be something that could be a long time down the road.

In the short term, the most viable automotive technology for alternative fuels may be electricity. Many automotive developers have been generating a lot of different methods of using electricity in a vehicle as an alternative to the use of fossil fuels to power transportation. While an electric car would be a great technology to have in a vehicle, the reality is that most of the electricity generated worldwide is done so thanks to the use of other non-renewable resources, like coal or natural gas. If an alternative means of generating electricity is also put into effect by generating companies, the viability of the electric vehicle would greatly increase.

Whether using water or electricity as the means of fueling the vehicle, the technology of an alternative fuel as a means of driving a vehicle can only be as effective if there is a commitment to mass producing the technology on a consumer level. If these vehicles are made with a price that can appeal to the average consumer, and at a level of technology that the average consumer can maintain, or at least understand, on their own, only then can the mass acceptance and use of these alternative fuels in vehicles be realized.