Cars that drive themselves are still a science-fiction dream, but in the meantime, there are plenty of technological safety features taking automobiles above and beyond what we once knew.
1. Night Vision
Night vision perks on a car operate either via thermal-imaging cameras or infrared headlamps. But whichever you choose to go with, their common goal is to help you see better at night. Night vision features are generally split into two camps, known as active and passive systems. Active systems direct beams of infrared light ahead of your vehicle, which are invisible to the naked eye. These produces sharper, high resolution images and are ideal for well-lit conditions but lose efficacy when it comes to long ranges or foggy/rainy weather. Passive systems, on the other hand, use a form of thermal radiation, and are especially effective for long range vision up to 300 meters and for spotting movement on the road. However, passive systems also tend to produce grainy, low resolution images and often don’t work well in warmer weather.
2. Lane Drift Warnings
A few years ago, you might remember Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki telling us all about the dangers of a micro-sleep on the road. These days, lane drift warning systems are often built in to cars to enhance safety and minimize driver drowsiness. If any drifting occurs, the system will alert the driver with a simple alarm and/or a seat vibration and some systems will also enact warnings when it’s unsafe to change lanes, based on the relative speed, direction and location of surrounding vehicles. Want more? You can also buy certain cars that go beyond this, to employ a ‘lane keeping’ system, which, other than alerting you, will also auto-correct your movement and steer your car back into its lane. Ford’s 2013 Hybrid Ford Fusion series, for example, will have this in-built, though they’re not the first to do so.
3. Automated Braking & Collision Assistance
In an emergency situation on the road, most drivers will make a rapid shift from the accelerator to the brake pedal. When this happens, an automated braking system will simply sense this action (as opposed to the deliberate, gradual brake we use when we are fully in control) and immediately apply greater pressure to the brake to help lessen the time it. Sometimes, the reduction in stopping time and distance may not seem like much, but it could mean everything in a collision.
4. Pedestrian Detection
In theory, pedestrian detection systems are similar to lane drift warnings, but work by identifying pedestrian movement in front of your car. The system uses radar and camera technology and as soon as it “sees” a person (or even another car) step into harm’s way, will signal to the driver, via an alarm, that there is a potential danger ahead. If the driver doesn’t correct his/her movement and react “appropriately” to the situation, the car will automatically come to complete halt. This technology is particularly useful in urban environments, yet doesn’t always work at night or during rainy weather conditions. Volvo is one such manufacturer who has employed pedestrian detection systems in their vehicle range, claiming up to 30% of collisions can potentially be avoided by cars using this technology.
5. Occupant Sensitive Airbags
Are you the same size as a crash test dummy? Some of us might be, but others probably not. While airbags are meant to save lives, the one-size-fits-all nature of the common airbag can also be potentially dangerous to passengers who do not have a ‘standard’ shape and size.
Occupant sensitive airbags have been introduced in the past few years to accommodate the needs of the children, the elderly, overweight/underweight passengers and generally anyone not seated in fully “upright” position. Designed to sense the size, weight, position, posture of the passenger and the car’s speed, it will adjust its impact accordingly in the event of an accident.
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