Family Car Tech That Matters, Part One

September 8, 2010


Everyone knows that today’s cars like the new 2011 Ford Explorer shown here are loaded with technology. Some cars have more tech features than others. In this two-part series, we’ll look at some technology that really matters in family cars. Specifically, in part one, we’ll examine the tech features that keep us safe, make driving more enjoyable, and allow family cars to last longer and require less operating costs.

Rollover Prevention

Most automakers have offered anti-lock braking (ABS), stability and traction control systems as standard or optional technology features for several years.  A technology that affords families more protection in vehicles is one that provides rollover prevention or mitigation. The system senses a potential rollover – such as when you take a corner too fast or have to swerve sharply to avoid hitting another vehicle – applies the brakes and modulates the throttle until the driver can regain control. Automakers call such systems by various names: roll-over protection system (Volvo), active roll mitigation (Range Rover), roll stability control (Ford), proactive roll avoidance (GM), and so on. Whatever it’s called rollover prevention is a family car tech that matters.

Brake Assist

This technology is different from ABS or electronic brakeforce distribution. The system recognizes that the driver is making a panic stop,  and it automatically applies additional brake pressure to help the driver stop safely. In some systems, it may also work with the vehicle’s stability control system or smart cruise control if it senses an imminent collision.

Sensing Airbags

Occupant-sensing dual-stage airbags sense different sizes and weights, as well as seatbelt usage, abnormal seating position (such as reaching for the radio or bending down to retrieve something from the floor), rear-facing child seats and vehicle speed. While the increase in overall number of airbags (some vehicles have 10 or more) is a good thing, especially in a family car, the new sensing airbags provide the most up-to-date technology and protection for loved ones.

Adaptive Cruise Control

Adaptive cruise control is a much more advanced technology than what was available just a few years ago. Besides adjusting speed, with sensors and radar, today’s adaptive cruise control helps you keep a safe distance from cars in front of you by adjusting the throttle and brakes automatically if there’s a change in traffic speed or someone cuts in front of you and slows down. If an imminent collision is detected, the system typically brakes hard and tightens the seatbelts. When the way is clear, the system will return the car to original cruising speed – all without driver input. The driver can override the system by tapping on the brakes.

Night Vision

Automakers call it by different names, depending on the type of system: night vision, adaptive headlights, and so on. But what really matters is that such technology, whether it uses infrared headlamps or thermal imaging cameras, helps the driver see further down the road and avoid people, animals, and objects in the vehicle’s path – up to 1,000 feet ahead. An image is projected on a cockpit display, brightening objects that the human eye may not be able to detect. Adaptive headlights follow the vehicle’s direction, bending light around corners. Some adaptive headlights compensate for ambient light or are speed-sensitive (able to change the beam length or height). Mercedes-Benz calls its system Night View Assist.

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