Airbags, seatbelts, anti-lock brakes and headlights, the 20th Century saw a steady stream of technologies that dramatically improve the safety, durability and survivability of car crashes. The 21st Century appears poised to continue that tradition with several impressive car safety features planned for the near future.
Keeping eyes on the road
The next generation of cars will connect with household devices more seamlessly than ever. The proliferation of connectivity to social media, texting and navigation will continue the inexorable pull of driver attention away from the road. To counter this trend, cars will be equipped with holographic heads-up displays. These displays will project right onto the windshield in easy-to-interpret 3-D maps and directions.
Car manufacturers are researching car-to-car communication technologies. Car-to-car communication updates drivers on traffic conditions, road hazards and weather. In this case, greater connectivity is an asset rather than a distraction. Moreover, night-vision, heat-vision gray-scale and 360 degree cameras, once reserved for luxury vehicles, appear to be trickling down to mid-size economy cars. The 360 degree camera stitches together a cohesive image from several camera points to improve situational awareness for parking and other tight-maneuvers. These futuristic cameras will likely be present on most cars by 2020.
“Smarter” driver assistance
As discussed above luxury cars get all the latest in safety features first, and this includes adaptive cruise control and lane assistance. Laser and radar stop-and-go cruise controls prevent drivers from tailgating or rear-ending other vehicles.
In addition to cruise control, car companies are experimenting with adaptive cameras that act as a lane assistance. These cameras and lasers will keep cars in their lanes and prevent drivers from merging into occupied lanes. The goal of this technology is to prevent accidents due to driver inattention. Unfortunately, these technologies could backfire and reinforce those bad habits as drivers become more reliant on autonomous assistance.
Ford is researching the feasibility of airbag seatbelts. These airbags, in theory, would diffuse the force of a crash over a wider area of the body thereby minimizing the risk of harm. If this technology operates correctly, look for it to make an appearance in all cars very soon.
These technologies look to change the nature of car safety and it appears they will. But no technological assistant will ever outweigh a focused and aware driver as the safest feature on the road.