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Sunday, August 22, 2010

ARTICLE: 5 Most Important Upcoming Car Technologies

5 Most Important Upcoming Car Technologies

By Charles W. Bryant, How Stuff Works

2010 Tesla RoadsterScience fiction movies and TV shows have always been populated with fantastically futuristic cars. These automobiles could interact with the person behind the wheel or even drive without the help of a human. Even traditional-looking cars of the future were equipped with smart technology you never thought would become a reality. These days, the car of the present is beginning to resemble these “cars of the future.” While we may not be headed toward floating roadways and hover cars, we're going in a decidedly futuristic direction with some of these upcoming car technologies.

Alternative Fuels

Hybrid vehicles have been around for some time now, and there’s a dedicated subculture of biodiesel and ethanol enthusiasts out there. Companies like Tesla aim to take the electric car off the bench and put her into the game in coming years. Its sporty Roadster design electric car is currently the only highway ready electric vehicle in production. With the current debate on using food crops for fuel getting louder, electricity may be the wave of the future when it comes to powering cars. Combine a fully electric car with zero-emissions recharging stations that run on wind or solar power, and you have a car that’s not only futuristic, but helps take care of our future.
Collision Avoidance Systems

In the mid 1960s, only about half of the states in the U.S. required that cars have front seat belts, and usage laws didn’t pop up until the mid 1980s. Safety these days means front and side impact systems (air bags), anti-lock brakes and stability control, among other things. Despite that, there are still more than 35,000 auto fatalities per year in the United States. The future of car safety is looking promising. Volvo, a company long associated with setting the bar for safety standards, is developing a system that uses radar and lasers to ensure that a safe distance between vehicles is maintained. So far, the technology has proved effective in lowering the speed of impact during a crash by up to 18 miles per hour (28.9 kilometers per hour), and avoiding low speed fender benders altogether.

High-strength, Low-weight Materials

Lightweight vehicles have better fuel economy and lower emissions. The lighter the car, the less fuel it needs to power itself forward, while also spitting out fewer harmful emissions. The problem with light cars is that they don't weather accidents gracefully. The answer, then, is to find lighter materials that hold up well in collisions. Enter carbon fiber reinforced plastic, or CRP. Fifty percent lighter than metal alloys, carbon fiber has been used in the racing world for a while now. The problem with CRP is that it’s expensive, which may be the only reason we haven’t seen it much in mass production as of yet. It has been used effectively in some BMW and Chevrolet models, though.

Smart Technologies

Thanks to computer technology, cars have been getting noticeably smarter in recent years. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are pretty standard these days, and drivers with no sense of direction are thankful for it. That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, though, when it comes to what’s in store for divers in the not too distant future. Some car companies have experimented with systems that study the face of the driver to gauge alertness. In theory, the car would tell a sleepy driver to wake up and pull over, and then the car would be temporarily disabled. The same goes for cars that know if you’ve been drinking. There are already devices on vehicles that require a driver to blow into a breathalyzer before the vehicle can be started. However, until some of these smart safety features become less expensive to implement, we probably won’t see drowsy driver systems in many vehicles.En

Self-driving Cars

Just like something from “The Jetsons,” self-driving cars may be a reality at some point. In 2007, an experimental research wing of the U.S. Department of Defense sponsored a contest that challenged inventors to build a driver-less car. Using sensors, GPS and computer controls for the car, one winning team proved that it’s a possibility for the future. The idea itself dates back to the 1930s, when General Motors tested magnet driven cars. Whether or not the government or private companies are pursuing this in earnest remains to be seen, but the concept is in place for any company willing to push the boundaries.

That's all folks, thanks for having the time and patience to read this blog entry. 

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