These days, the thought of new automotive technology calls forth images of artificial intelligence and machines that blur the line between transportation, leisure and entertainment. And while these big ideas coming to life are very exciting, smaller advances such as innovations in new car parts have made a big difference in the industry and to the consumer. For the most part, these advances are focused around three main areas, often with overlap: safety, efficiency and autonomy.
Most new developments today are safety-oriented. We’ve seen an increase in the overall number of airbags designed into a vehicle, but the shapes and utilization methods are also undergoing some changes to prevent injuries upon deployment and allow faster, more accurate response in case of an accident. Some headlights use sensors to automatically adjust the level of brightness so you can see in the dark without blinding oncoming traffic. More and more brake pads are coming equipped with mechanical or electric sensors built in to alert the driver when they’ve worn too thin. Actually, most things seem to be sensor-enhanced these days, such as improved backup and blind-spot warnings, often used in conjunction with automatic braking systems.
As environmental awareness grows and gas prices fluctuate, manufacturers and consumers alike are demanding efficiency in their rides. Materials engineers have delivered big time: New body panels are both lighter and tougher than they used to be. This means cars stand up better to accidents but also weigh less and take less fuel and energy to propel. Some emerging technology here involves panels that store energy though regenerative braking and solar power. Tire technology has also come a long way through new materials and design. They grip better and last longer than they used to. Turbochargers are starting to come standard, where they used to exist solely in the racing world. Sensor-enabled adaptive cruise control aims to better manage energy consumption while keeping you a safe distance from other on the road.
This category of improvement probably gets the most attention. Better and more numerous sensors are being used to enhance almost every automotive system you can name. Lane assist and all small steps towards totally self-driving cars are becoming the norm. Technology is also growing outside the car, embedded in signs and infrastructure to enable vehicles to communicate with their environment and each other, making “decisions” faster and with more accuracy than a human driver can.
To be sure, there is a lot of exciting technology on the horizon. But take a few steps back to review how far individual parts and systems have come, and it’s not hard to tell … the future is now.
Check out all the relays, sensors and switches
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.