In 1886, Karl Benz built what is considered the first true automobile. The technology had been in development for more than a century and even before that, Leonardo da Vinci composed plans for the first transport vehicles. Although the internal combustion engine remains the primary mode for transportation, a number of new innovations have sprung up in recent years. This old industry has learned some new tricks.
Adaptive cruise control
When activated, cruise control maintains your car’s speed at the preset miles per hour prescribed by the driver. Adaptive cruise control goes one step further by always ensuring that sufficient space is maintained between your car and the one directly in front of you. This means that if your speed is set at 65 mph and the car in front of you is traveling at 60 mph, the system will automatically adapt and slow your car. Once the slow car picks up speed or moves out of the way, your speed will resume to its preset threshold. Innovative adaptive cruise control is a forerunner of autonomous driving, as it will automatically apply the brakes if needed. The system is usually standard for luxury cars and is now widely available on many mainstream models.
Remote vehicle shutdown
Stolen cars may soon become a thing of the past, thanks to remote vehicle shutdown technology. This system is already in place in certain cars equipped with GM’s OnStar telematics service. If your car is reported stolen, you can notify OnStar. OnStar then uses GPS services to alert authorities where your car is currently located. This innovative system can also send a signal to your car to slow it down or prevent it from restarting.
Imagine keeping the same tires on your car for the life of your vehicle. That day is close at hand, thanks to the Green Hive tire design developed by the Nexen Tire Corporation. The concept earned the prestigious IDEA Design Award in 2014.
Normally, tires must be replaced when the tread reaches 2/32 of an inch. However, Nexen’s Green Hive design replenishes the tread on a continual basis, by replacing the tread block as many as three to five times – well beyond the years most people keep their cars.
The tire manufacturer explains that the wheel itself acts as a steel mold with both an inner and an outer wheel. A refill tread compound is inserted in the mold inside the wheel, with heat applied to soften the compound as new tread is inserted through the wheel’s hexagon-shaped (or hive-like) holes. New tread blocks are created as air pressure is applied from within the wheel. The company says that Green Hive “prioritizes usability, economy, and sustainability.”
Though this tire is just a concept at the moment, Nexen is working toward making it a reality. In the meantime, check out other innovative tire designs by Nexen on TireBuyer.com.
In-cabin infotainment systems
If you’ve purchased a new car in recent years, you may have noticed an important change to the audio system. Nearly all cars now come equipped with an infotainment system, composed of audio, navigation, media, and phone connectivity options. Such systems are typically marked by a colorful display affixed to the top of the center stack. However, infotainment systems are often hard to configure and sometimes unreliable, leading to a downgrade in-car quality scores, according to Consumer Reports. But manufacturers aren’t giving up; they continue to make innovative improvements.
Imagine pulling up to a tight parking space on a city street and wondering how you’ll parallel park. It’s a challenge that has bedeviled people for years, and one that automakers like Ford have responded to by developing technologies that allow a car to parallel park itself. Ford’s Active Park Assist works with the single push of a button. When the driver pulls up alongside a car to begin parallel parking, the innovative system takes over once the driver places the transmission in reverse. When the system detects that there is enough room to parallel park it begins to move the car into position and comes to a stop with room to spare between vehicles.
Traditional steel-bodied vehicles may soon be a thing of the past. Vehicle light-weighting is here. This automotive technology enables manufacturers to use materials that weigh less, that are durable, and that save fuel. Beginning in 2015, Ford released its full-size F-150 pickup truck clad in aluminum. Through weight-saving measures, Ford trimmed as much as 700 pounds from the body. Other manufacturers are expected to follow suit, with some choosing carbon fiber composites or high-strength steel to achieve similar weight savings.
You’re probably very familiar with the way a computer mouse works. Today’s laptops go one step further by making use of an embedded touchpad to move the cursor into position. Lexus has a similar system in some of its cars, called Remote Touch. The system is composed of a touch pad located in the center compartment between the front seats, adjacent to the transmission shifter. Remote Touch has some refining to do – it’s supposed to reduce distracted driving, but you may still find yourself taking your eyes off the road long enough to ensure the cursor is lined up to work the proper commands (navigation, radio, or phone connectivity controls). Competing manufacturers, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz, use dials to accomplish the same tasks. Ultimately, voice-controlled systems that understand your commands may replace both.
Automated remote valet parking assistant
The technology for remote vehicle parking is here, although the actual application is still a few years off. At the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, BMW introduced its innovative automated remote valet parking assistant technology.
The system works with a smartwatch. A driver pulls up to a restaurant or other venue, exits her car, and sends a signal to the car to park itself. The vehicle would then head to a parking garage, navigate the different levels and find a parking space. Just before the diner leaves the restaurant, she can signal the car to return to the spot where she was dropped off.
Currently still in the testing stages, vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) will soon allow new cars to “talk” with each other to prevent accidents. Already approved and soon to be mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, V2V uses a wireless network to communicate a vehicle’s location, speed and the direction of travel. When a car encroaches on another vehicle’s space, the system will tell the driver to take evasive action. It can also override if the driver doesn’t act soon enough. V2V will be one of the innovative technologies we should see by 2020, in the lead-up to true autonomous driving.
Innovative technologies and the consumer
Innovative automotive technology comes at a price, and manufacturers pass that on to consumers. But that price often means a number of benefits, including a reduction in injuries and fatal crashes. Some of the more advanced technologies may also reduce your insurance premiums, offsetting at least some of the new costs borne by consumers.
Matthew C. Keegan founded the automotive site Auto Trends Magazine in April 2008 and expanded it to reflect its current format and editorial policy beginning in Sept. 2011. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and a contributor to various print and online media sources.