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WKND - - O N T H E R O A D - 3 march 2017

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

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