33 innovations that have improved safety and performance for motorists through the years
With Inquirer celebrating 33 years since its inception, we look at some of the most recent technical innovations in the motoring world that have made cars safer, and of course perform better.
1. The Airbag (multiple airbags, multi-stage airbags)
The airbag has helped save lives as a supplemental restraint system, helping occupants avoid serious injury in the event of collision.
Today, dual airbags are standard on almost all but the most basic of cars. Some consider the number of airbags as a metric to consider how safe a car is.
2. The modern braking system (ABS, EBD, CBC, brake assist)
Previously, we’d be happy to have 4-wheel disc brakes. But today’s modern braking systems have so much more.
ABS brakes prevent lock-up, electronic brake force distribution provides extra levels of retardation on the wheel/axle that has more traction, cornering brake control helps maintain control of the car while trail-braking into a corner safely, and brake assist senses an emergency braking maneuver and applies 100-percent braking effort to stop you in a hurry if in case you’re unable to react quickly enough in the event of an emergency.
3. Traction and stability control
With even subcompact and entry-level cars being equipped with traction and stability control, today’s automobiles are becoming safer in a wide variety of road and driving conditions.
Traction control helps you maintain longitudinal control and stability, while stability control helps quell understeer/oversteer situations.
4. Torque vectoring
Seen primarily in high-performance cars, torque vectoring works by changing the rate of rotation of the inner and outer wheels.
The inner wheel is slowed down while cornering by the use of the brakes (similar to cornering brake control), and the use of an electro-hydraulically controlled differential limits torque to the inner wheel as well, thus helping cornering and traction and avoiding both under/oversteer.
5. Hill start assist
This keeps you from rolling backwards when starting from an incline; very handy indeed!
6. Hill descent/ascent control
This helps maintain a steady speed going up or down a steep incline. Makes you look like a veteran off-roader!
7. Trailer sway assist
Driving a towing vehicle is a skill in itself. The trailer sway assist, such as those found in Chevrolet’s Colorado and Trailblazer twins, truly make towing easier for the uninitiated as it helps correct and counter the dangerous swaying of trailers while being towed on highways.
8. Roll over mitigation system/roll stability control
This is an electronic aid that helps prevent and compensate for driving maneuvers that can prompt a vehicle roll-over, particularly for tall-riding SUVs.
Many of Ford’s SUVs have this technology built-in as standard.
9. Off-road terrain management driver assist software
Originally developed by Land Rover, the best 4×4 vehicle by far, and brought to the masses by Ford, the offroad terrain management assist software helps 4×4 vehicles overcome difficult terrain by pre-selecting the type of surface you will encounter: mud, rocks, snow, grass and sand.
This then tweaks the various driving aids to compensate for the vagaries of each unique surface, allowing you to traverse tough terrain safely, just like a pro.
10. Laminated/zone-tempered/fully-tempered glass and direct glazing using a polyurethane sealant
Glass technology hasn’t evolved much, but the ability to purchase a replacement which is just as good as OEM quality has gone down, making this technology cheaper especially to cost-conscious buyers who opt to maintain their old but reliable vehicles.
Thanks to Aguila Glass, the leader in automotive aftermarket replacement glass, many of their windshields (laminated and conforming to OEM standards) are ½ to even 1/5 the price of OEM windshields.
Its use of direct glazing ensures faster curing time and minimizes moisture getting trapped inside the sealant, thus preventing rust and corrosion.
Aguila Glass’ 25 branches nationwide can service you even at home. Convenience should not be expensive.
11. Tire technology
Today’s tires have a tough job: they should last tens of thousands of kilometers, withstand extreme driving conditions, offer low rolling resistance for better fuel mileage while delivering impressive cornering and braking performance, and keep tire and wind noise all to a minimum.
What future technical innovations will we see from the likes of Bridgestone, Yokohama, Goodyear and Michelin?
12. Composite materials for weight savings, improved performance and safety
Today’s high-performance cars like Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz AMG, and even Nissan’s Nismo Division all utilize composite materials to help save weight and build a safer structure in the event of a crash.
Composite materials absorb and redirect kinetic energy from an impact away from the occupants.
Components such as front and rear bumpers, front fenders, and engine slam panels/nose panels are being made of carbon composite or similar products.
13. Cameras (front, rear, around-view or bird’s eye-view)
The advent of cameras that show you what’s around your vehicle has made navigating through and parking into tight slots a real breeze.
It also helps prevent minor accidents and gives you greater confidence when behind the wheel.
14. Parking sensors
Much as above, parking sensors can really help give you as much clearance, when every last millimeter matters in parking.
15. Multimedia infotainment sytems and mobile device integration
Multimedia systems are fast becoming a necessity in today’s highly connected and fast-paced world, allowing us to work seamlessly with the vehicle acting as a medium for our mobile phone device to the outside world, and vis-a-vis.
With mirror-imaging and fast and easy device sync-ing slowly becoming the norm, thanks to Apple Carplay and Android Auto, our lives will be more connected than ever before, even while we’re on the go.
16. Satellite navigation
No more need for numerous phone calls or stopping at every intersection asking for directions, or looking through old, outdated road maps.
Let the eye in the sky do the work for you, without any guesswork.
17. On-board tire pressure monitoring systems
Tire pressure condition is what will ensure your tires’ longevity.
We often forget to check the tire pressure every time we gas up (which we should) so these onboard tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) that come standard on many vehicles such as Mitsubishi’s Montero Sport and Strada pickups warn us if our tires are under-inflated or over-inflated, and allow us to make the necessary adjustments before things get serious.
18. Lane departure warning
We’ve all experienced these: getting sleepy, or distracted while driving by our phones or when skipping through channels on the radio.
Lane departure warning alerts us if we’re veering away from our lane.
Some systems even add in a bit of corrective steering to help keep us on the straight and narrow.
19. Blind spot assistance
There’s always that small blind spot that unfortunately happens to be very near us.
If a car or motorcycle creeps up on our blind spot, and we fail to see it immediately, oftentimes when we make slight steering movements, the results can be catastrophic.
Blind spot assistance warns of a presence in our blind spot, and in some systems, a camera can show us exactly what it is that has crept into our blind-spot.
20. Adaptive cruise control
Cruise control helped revolutionize long-distance driving, but adaptive cruise control is even better.
Using sensors and a radar, cars now have the capability to constantly monitor the surrounding environment, especially what’s up ahead, to keep a safe distance, slow down or speed up automatically.
This makes you, the driver, a little more at ease and relaxed.
21. Pre-Safe technology (Bosch)
Invented by Bosch, and now used as standard in almost every high-end luxury vehicle, Pre-Safe senses an impending accident based on steering and braking inputs.
It pre-loads the seat belt tensioners, adjusts the seatbacks to an upright position, primes the brakes, and closes the windows to provide better safety for the occupants.
Immediately after the accident, the windows are rolled down where possible to allow people to exit the vehicle.
The emergency lights are activated, and in some systems, an emergency call is placed to the police/ambulance/emergency response team.
Truly impressive safety stuff.
No device has made such a huge impact, especially for safety and security purposes and for legal proceedings, such as the dashcam.
Used to document and record road safety and security, we have, through social media, been witnesses of accidents, road rage, and other oddities on the road—all thanks to the now ubiquitous dashcam.
As the world becomes more connected with each other, CCTVs have slowly become the norm in our country.
While we’re still quite some way off from London, the world’s CCTV capital, the slow but steady installation of CCTVs in both public and private places have helped deter and track crime, monitor business, and of course, the motorways for accidents and mishaps.
24. Speed cameras
While a bane for motorists, speed cameras have helped prevent avenues of corruption from propagating, and have helped clamp down on erring over-speeding motorists with proof of their shenanigans on the road, keeping our roads safer.
It should also be used for vehicles that go below the minimum indicated speed on the highway.
25. Autonomous braking/stopping
Initially seen on Volvo’s City Safety Technology, this autonomous braking system prevents collisions, such as when drivers fail to immediately respond to an impending collision, especially at slow city speeds.
This is particularly useful for pedestrians who are distracted and often pre-occupied to realize they might be walking straight onto a moving vehicle.
Modern systems can also detect cross-traffic from behind, such as when you’re backing out of a parking slot, and a pedestrian is walking behind your vehicle.
26. Active aerodynamics
The original active aerodynamics utilized moving parts actuated by hydraulic or electronic motors: moving flaps, wings that act as air brakes, or flaps that open or close to increase cooling air into the engine, or reducing drag.
Today, modern active aerodynamics utilize highly calculated materials that bend/flex at varying speeds, thus changing airflow characteristics.
Lamborghini’s Ala (Aerodynamic Lamborghini Attiva) uses such a technology as it allowed its Huracan Performante to lap the infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife in 6:52.01, one of the fastest lap times on the Green Hell.
27. Hybrids, PHEVs and full EVs
The future of electrification is upon us. Many brands have already started medium-term plans to electrify a significant number of their vehicles by 2025 or earlier, and we will see more and more on the road as prices drop, technology improves and becomes affordable, and supporting infrastructure catches up.
Hybrids are not so novel anymore, and plug-in hybrids are being offered even by Chinese manufacturers such as BYD.
The challenge now is market acceptance: Will we be ready for electric cars, in one form or another?
28. Autonomous/self-driving technology
Is autonomous driving truly the future of regular commuting?
As technology and supporting infrastructure catch up, will we be ready for a driverless vehicle where we can just sit back, relax, enjoy the scenery, or catch up on work?
Together with EVs, autonomous driving could mean a serious reduction in greenhouse gasses, less reliance on fossil fuels, and a truly efficient travel.
29. Lighting technology (evolution from sealed beam, halogen, HID/Xenon, LED/Oled, and in the near future, laser light technology)
Lighting technology has greatly evolved from the days of candle-lit lamps.
In vehicles, we’ve seen halogen headlights, HID/xenon-gas headlights, and now LED which is slowly becoming the norm.
Now, OLED (organic light-emitting devices) is being used for secondary lighting, particularly for tail-lamps.
Audi, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and even Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota/ Lexus and more have adapted to LED lighting because they last 10 times more than regular halogen bulbs, utilize far less energy, create far less heat (1/3 or less of traditional halogen bulbs), and can be shaped with less restrictions to allow car designers more leeway for more engaging designs.
But the future looks to be laser lighting: they are four times brighter than LED, which allows lighting fixtures to be made smaller.
Today, BMW’s i8 and 760Li and Audi’s R8 LMX are three cars that utilize laser lighting technology.
Expect more vehicles to follow suit as this technology becomes more affordable.
30. Engine technology (smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient, with less emissions, and with more power)
Today’s downsizing trends mean we’re seeing smaller, lighter, more powerful yet more fuel-efficient engines.
Volkswagen-Audi Group’s 1.4 TSI engine produces anywhere from 122 hp to 167 hp, depending on application; and Ford’s 1.0 EcoBoost engine also produces an impressive 99 hp to 123 hp depending on the application.
Aside from being smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient, these engines also meet the latest Euro VI emissions requirements, translating to cleaner-burning engines.
Another impressive engine is Mazda’s upcoming SkyActiv-X compression-ignition engine that combines the best attributes of both gasoline and diesel combustion engines delivering more power and fuel efficiency.
The internal combustion engine isn’t dead yet!
31. IR night time driving assistance
Infra-red (IR) technology was originally utilized for modern military warfare, but this technology has now found itself being used for cars.
Seeing almost invisible objects over a hundred meters away means safer driving for motorists, as well as pedestrians and animals on a lonely, deserted stretch of road.
32. Facial recognition software (to detect driver condition)
Sleepy? Tired? Fatigued or something not feeling right?
Many high-end luxury cars now feature a form of facial recognition that monitors driver’s welfare, as well as unsmooth, jerky driving habits.
If the system detects these things, it will recommend a coffee break or nap time on the dashboard indicator, and will also recommend a short stop every 60 minutes of driving.
It’s like having a co-pilot, definitely an improvement over an intrusive back-seat driver.
33. Multi-function LCD screens
Audi’s virtual cockpit, alongside similar systems from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, means that electronic systems, though seemingly complicated, are actually becoming simpler and more integrated.
We can choose what we see on our primary instrument cluster, and change/toggle through a variety of settings to customize the dash layout to our preferences.
Handy when we don’t want to be inundated with too much information that might not be relevant or important to us.
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