Auto Tech: From Concept to Reality
Here are 5 automotive technologies that went from the show floor to the dealer floor, and 5 we wish would follow suit.
Most concept vehicles are outlandish things, design sketches come to gleaming life for a single auto-show season. They prove that automakers have dreams, too, even if the bold lines and glittering gadgetry of those dreams are inevitably dumbed down into more practical products. But some of the most high-tech features available today — the kind that have turned the modern automobile into a rolling sensor suite and that can take control of the vehicle during driving and parking — made their debut in concept vehicles. Here are five of the best technological innovations that made it to production, and five more that we'd like to see in the future.
INNOVATIONS WE CAN USE ...
Though far from standard, the car that parks itself is headed toward ubiquity, thanks in no small part to the Integrated Research Volkswagen Concept, which debuted in 1992. This precursor to today's city-car concepts could maneuver itself into a parallel-parking spot by using front- and rear-mounted sensors to track obstacles. It would be more than a decade before this capability hit the market, beginning with the Lexus LS 460 in 2006, and then with VW's own Touran that same year.
Before automakers could engineer vehicles to brake and steer themselves, they had to give them eyes, ears and a dash of ultrasound and radar, all to increase drivers' awareness of their surroundings. That strategy came to a head in the Volvo Safety Concept Car, which pioneered — among other things — blind-spot detection. When it debuted in 2000, the SCC may have seemed a little too safe, with its transparent A-pillars, multiple collision warnings and flashing brake lights, which were meant to provide additional warning to other drivers when braking hard. Objects in the vehicle's blind spot would trigger a light on side mirrors, and eventually a tone. This basic concept has seen widespread adoption in recent years. Starting in 2010, Nissan took the inevitable step from sensing to acting: The Infiniti M automatically brakes to avoid drifting into a detected blind-spot obstruction.
The terminology surrounding lane-departure systems is humble and downplays what's really being offered — the quasi-robotic ability of a vehicle to steer itself at highway speeds. The Volvo Safety Concept Car can't take full credit for introducing this technology, since by 2001 cameras that watch for suspicious, unsignaled lane shifts had already been installed in trucks and buses. Also in 2001, Nissan released its own lane-departure alarm system in the Cima, sold only in Japan. But Volvo framed its feature as part of a larger sensor-based safety initiative, and by 2003, Honda's Inspire was actively steering to fight lane drift. In the years since, nearly every automaker has rolled out its own version, though most still use cameras to spot lanes and vibrations to alert the driver, instead of wresting control of the wheel.
It should be no surprise that many safety-based features first appeared in Volvo concepts. In 2008, the company presented its S60 Concept, which featured collision-detection systems that not only spotted pedestrians moving into the vehicle's path, but also applied the brakes to avoid or minimize impact. At speeds less than 15 mph, the S60 would try to come to full stop. When traveling faster, it slowed down, and Volvo claimed that the collision force could be reduced by 75 percent. This technology is just hitting the showroom today, along with more hands-off approaches, such as night-vision cameras that highlight pedestrians and deliver audible collision alerts.
The design teams behind most concept cars look no more than five or 10 years ahead. In 2002, in a partnership with the movie "Minority Report," Lexus created a vehicle design for 2054. Along with the ability to latch onto magnetic-levitation tracks and recognize the driver's DNA, the Lexus 2054 could respond to voice commands, changing the color of its body panels or searching for restaurants and making reservations. Ordering your car to turn candy-apple red is still science fiction, but by 2007, Ford's Sync infotainment system was turning basic smartphone functions into voice commands. Today, speech recognition is as common as factory-installed GPS navigation.
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Let's be reasonable and face the TRUTH.....the thumbs down "crowd" are the CROWD we are talking about!!!!!!!
I have always love cars, and I truly believe that anything that helps to prevent accidents and kill our families is good. I am a very good driver not because I race cars, but because I have not had an accident in the last 25 years, and yes it's very hard with this fast life and so many things in our heads, I think if I drive the most expensive car or the cheapest, the difference it always be the driver.
I am a good driver and enjoy driving. To me, many of these devices only detract from the fun of driving. Simpler cars are more fun to drive and less expensive to buy. They also tend to need fewer expensive repairs, usually caused by the failure of an expensive, high-tech add on. If you need a device to tell you that you are going to rear end another vehicle, you should be walking or riding a bike, not driving a car.
Also, it cracks me up when I see how few people are actually able to drive a manual transmission. Manual transmissions have nearly become anti-theft devices, because many idiots who try to steal cars can't operate a stick shift with a clutch. If someone tries to steal your manual-transmission car, they may destroy the clutch or transmission, but wouldn't get far with the car.
It seems to me that if you have a car that essentially drives itself, you may as well ride the bus. At least you don't have to buy the bus.