Gizmos of the future
The car world is littered with trademark terms and phrases and an ever-increasing range of equipment, writes Stuart Martin.
THE cutting-edge safety and luxury features that appear on the equipment lists of the top-end luxury vehicle models will eventually filter down to the mainstream models. Antilock brakes and airbags are two of the most obvious examples.
Technological advances in the automotive industry are moving quicker than when the researchers were creating those first safety advances. This means it may not be as long a gap between the S-Class driver turning on the night vision and the same system being started in a Commodore.
This has been around a while and is known by many acronyms and trademark terms, such as Electronic Stability Program or Dynamic Stability Control. The fundamental system is the same and it is worthy of recognition.
Stability control uses sensors from the anti-lock brake system (which can quickly apply, release and reapply the brakes to prevent locking) to monitor wheel speed while the vehicle’s electronic systems take information from other sensors monitoring everything from engine outputs and steering wheel angles to directional changes.
If the car is no longer heading in the intended direction – through a loss of grip at the front or rear end – the car will retard the engine outputs and brake individual wheels to return the car to its desired path.
The bottom line is this system can massively reduce – even by half – the chance of an accident in a vehicle.
Once the realm of military pilots, night-vision systems are now available for the wellfunded car owner looking at topend machines from several brands, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. The Benz night vision has two infrared lamps that fire forward of the car and uses a camera to display the resulting view on the instrument panel.
The centre display that can happily display an image of an analogue instrument panel transforms to a small TV, showing the images picked up beyond the headlights’ range.
The BMW system is similar in its display but uses a thermal imaging camera to detect human beings, animals and objects up to 300m in front of the car before they become visible to the h u ma n e y e in the headlights, informing drivers of hazards by up to five seconds at 100km/h.
Now offered by a number of manufacturers, these are the next step from t h e n o r mal cruise control.
The systems employ radar – and in some cases cameras as well – to monitor the road ahead of the vehicle.
The early systems debuted on top-spec Mercedes-Benz and BMW models and would brake the car automatically to match the speed of
the vehicle ahead, returning to the set speed when the slower car was no longer in front.
The most recent incarnation of the radar cruise control systems is in the form of low-speed (sub30km/h) collision avoidance systems. The extension of these systems is the collision avoidance technology, which uses cameras, radar or a combination of the two to detect impending impacts and will warn the driver, pump up the brake system pressure and in some cases ‘‘jab’’ the brakes.
Becoming more common in real-world cars, there are different levels of computer-controlled suspension systems.
The basic system offers such modes as normal, comfort and sport – or variations of those terms – and the system changes the flow rate of the valve within the damper to firm up or soften the response to road conditions.
These systems have been taken to another level with computer control – the car takes information from a large collection of sensors to look at what the driver is doing and the driving conditions.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz each have active suspension systems that offer first-rate ride quality with the ability to reduce body roll by half and provide sportier road manners from a two-tonne limousine.
This was also something more likely to be seen in the cockpit of a fighter jet.
Nissan toyed with the system in its Bluebird model but more recently BMW and Peugeot have put readouts in the driver’s line of sight.
Peugeot’s 3008 flips up a little screen and displays the car’s speed as well as tailgating warnings.
The BMW system is a little more integrated: there’s no flip-up screen but the info is shot straight on to the windscreen.
Not only does it have the car’s speed but in certain models the satellite navigation instructions also can be put up in front of the driver.