Active cruise control with distance management
he aim of the first automobiles was to create motion, to propel a man or a group of individuals and their property, using a carriage powered by a motor planted in itself. Ironically, the subject of automobile safety remains an afterthought. In fact, life- saving safety features weren’t even a concern until vehicles were capable of reaching triple- digit speeds which, by then, resulted in a number of traffic- related deaths.
Safety was first addressed — assuming the internal combustion engine was safe to use — in its most rudimentary form, which was the retardation of speed, provided by the application of braking technology. In the early days, this was an adaptation of the brakes used on horse- drawn carriages, which involved a hand- operated brake lever that pressed a simple wooden block against the wheel in order to slow it down. This technology went by a few centuries without any significant improvement, until the introduction of the drum brakes followed by the more advanced disc brakes, which is what we see in modern- day cars. But braking technology was only the beginning of a revolution.
Then came what is, arguably, the most important invention in the world of motoring safety: seat belts. You should know that you’re twice as likely to survive a crash if you’re wearing one of these nylon straps and you’re less likely to sustain injury as well. And although the seatbelt was invented in the late 19th century and the modernday three- point seatbelt was patented in 1955 by Nils Bohlin for Volvo, the use of it wasn’t taken seriously until government regulations made it mandatory. Yet, even today, a sizeable population excuses itself from the three- second act of fastening their seatbelts by saying it creases their outfit or is just too uncool.
In time, several other safety features were developed — like energy- absorbing steering columns and shatter- free windshields, which improved overall life security aspects.
The next big revolution came with the introduction of the airbag. This collision- activated, self- inflating instant puffpillow became the ultimate beacon of safety. It, too, was invented way back in the 1950s, yet it was only in 1998 that the US federal government mandated air bags on all cars.
With the inclusion of electronics in cars came passive, underlying safety systems like stability control, known by different names in different cars: ESP in Audi, PSM in Porsche etc. It’s the mother algorithm that directs other algorithms like traction control, ABS and the like to, quite simply, keep the car on the road. These days, we are way beyond that too. We have systems like blind spot assist that monitors your blind spots across your shoulders. It will alert you if there is a car in the neighbouring lane and you indicate a lane change; in premium vehicles or trims, they’re provided corrective measures and turn the steering or brake the outer wheels to turn the car the other way. This works well, but mostly as a garnish on a brochure or spec sheet. How about a parking assistant? An invisible eye- andhand is programmed to locate an empty parking spot for you and will enthusiastically steer your car into the slot — be it into a street- style parallel parking space or into a garage. In most cars, you need to apply the accelerator and the brakes, but in high- end vehicles, even that requires no human input — giving you enough time to check your hair or straighten your tie before you attend office or a soiree. Seriously fancy, isn’t it! In all our automatic parking tests, however, it has been successful two out of three times on an average. The key safety feature of our age, we think, is FCW, an abbreviation for the Forward Collision Warning System, which is a system that uses laser, radar or camera technology to look out for traffic ahead; if the possibility of a collision is sensed, it will warn the driver in real time — using flashing