Top 5 technology in cars
We’re all familiar with things like heated seats, big sound systems and panoramic sunroofs, but what are some of our favourite cutting-edge technologies that can be found on cars today?
This does what it says on the tin. A thermographic camera mounted somewhere at the front of the vehicle can be employed in the dark to enhance forward visibility beyond the range of the headlights. Looking like something a spy would use in a weighty Tom Clancy novel, Night Vision is either a passive system, which merely enhances the view, or an active one, which will highlight anything it detects (such as a human stumbling about in the dark or an animal on the verge) to the driver through a visual/audible alert. You can find Night Vision, or a variation of it, on the options lists of most big Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Lexus and others.
We have to be careful with this one, because this is what Tesla calls its system – on other cars, it’s called things like Pilot Assist (Volvo) or Driver Assist Pack (Mercedes), for example. But what we’re talking about here is the closest thing you can get to the self-driving car in the current era: it teams lane-keep assist features with radar cruise control, meaning that, on motorways and dual carriageways, you can let the car steer, accelerate and brake for you… for limited periods of time only, mind, as most will issue an audible warning to put your hands back on the steering wheel or they’ll deactivate. However, watching a car (e.g., a well-specced E 220 d) edging its way along on a congested motorway, the steering wheel twitching autonomously as it holds its lane position, is both freaky and fascinating in equal measure. And a boon at taking the sting out of cruddy traffic conditions.
Remote Control Parking
You know what a remote-control car is in the world of toys, right? Well, this is it at adult scale, with a full-sized vehicle. Only BMW calls it Remote Control Parking (note the capital letters, there), because Mercedes calls it Remote Parking Pilot and Audi riffs on that same theme with the grandiose (and not that catchy) AI Remote Parking Pilot with AI Remote Garage Pilot. In essence, instead of you standing there with a little radio-control box, complete with an aerial, neck loop and little flag, you control the car in question on the car key… without you even being in the vehicle. Using the BMW RCP system as an example, a tap on the large screen on the car key starts the engine. Two arrows then appear, one for forward and one for back, and you press the requisite one and off the car goes. The point of this nonsense? Well, if you’re trying to park the vehicle in a tight space in a car park, or you’ve got a very narrow garage where you store the machine at night, and you think you won’t be able to open the car doors to get in/out, you use RCP. At the moment, the BMW system needs you to be standing very close to the car, it’ll only go straight forward and straight back with very minimal steering inputs and of course the car will only do about 5km/h tops.
We’re not talking about flicking the Vs at someone who has just mercilessly cut you up on a roundabout; we’re actually on about controlling in-car systems without touching any physical buttons whatsoever. Once again the preserve of the premium German brands, BMW’s Gesture Control is the most advanced. Sensors underneath the interior mirror monitor a ‘field’ of the cabin space beneath; try to imagine an invisible cube that’s hovering above the gear lever, just in front of the dashboard and between (yet forward of) the two front seats – if you make one of a number of pre-defined hand gestures in this space, various functions of the car will respond. So, you do little circles one way, and the stereo system’s volume goes up; rotate the other and the volume decreases. If a phone call come in, you can jab two fingers forward (not upwards, and not at other drivers, please…) and you’ll answer it, or you swipe your hand in an imperiously dismissive fashion and the call will be rejected. Useful, if it’s the boss and you’ve knocked off early…
Ford, Audi, Mercedes and others are working on this, but we’re going to look at Lexus’ brilliant Driver Emergency Stop Assist on the flagship LS saloon. This builds on autonomous stopping systems and driver monitoring technologies, by bringing the car to a safe halt in the event that the driver is no longer fit to do so, i.e., they’ve been taken very seriously and very suddenly unwell. It only works when the car is on its ‘autopilot’ mode (see above) at motorway speeds, but if it senses the driver has taken their hands clean off the wheel, it first of all flashes up a steering wheel symbol in the instrument cluster and the head-up display. If there’s no response from the driver, then another, exclamation mark warning symbol comes up and there’s an audible beeping alert; if the driver is still unresponsive after around 15 seconds, the audible alert sounds more insistently, the car automatically slows down to 50km/h and activates the hazard-warning lights; after another 30 seconds of this, the system rates the driver as being in an ‘Emergency’ status – this means that, unless you do something to show the car you are still with it (such as pressing the accelerator twice, rather than the once which might have happened if your foot slumps onto the pedal), it will disable throttle functions, then sound the car’s horn and gradually slow to a complete stop. At this point, it will enable the automatic parking brake, unlock the doors to allow quicker rescue for the driver and it will make an emergency call request to a local emergency calls operating centre. Clever, eh?