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Top 10: Car innovations we love
Our top ten most annoying car innovations caused quite a stir. Many of you agreed with us, but a good few of you thought us Luddites. Just to prove we’re not and actually embrace useful technology, here are our top ten motoring innovations that make motoring a more pleasant and safer experience.
Borrowed from the aerospace industry and first seen on experimental cars in the 1950s, ABS stands for Anti-Blockier-System or Antilock Braking System. And it does exactly as it suggests, preventing wheels locking up when braking heavily. Despite having been around for some time, it wasn’t until the 1980s that it was regularly adopted on passenger cars. It allows drivers to retain control and still steer while braking heavily. And since its widespread introduction it’s been improved dramatically, with additional functions like CBC (corner braking control) and brake assist. It’s such a useful safety aid that it’s now mandatory on all new cars in the UK (with a few exceptions).
Top 10: annoying car innovations
We cannot believe there are still people out there who refuse to wear these life saving devices. First introduced as standard equipment by Volvo in the late 50’s, the wearing of seatbelts for front seat passengers became mandatory in 1982 (1991 for rear seat passengers). Get caught not wearing one and you could face a fine of up to £500, which, frankly, you deserve. The three-point belt was invented by a Swedish engineer, Nils I Bohlin and has been improved upon through time with the addition of pre-tensioning devices, better belt materials and reminder functions. His invention is responsible for saving countless millions of lives since its introduction. That alone makes it worth mentioning here.
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Very few people have the skill to regain control of a car in an extreme manoeuvre. ESP (electronic stability programme) should prevent you from needing to do so, it maintaining control by braking individual wheels to prevent and correct under and oversteer. It works by utilising sensors around the car, recording what’s actually happening compared to the driver’s inputs. When they’re out of sync it’ll react to retain control. Thatcham, the motor insurance repair research centre claims ESP (sometimes called ESC, DTC, PSM, VSC, ASTM) could save as many as 400 lives, and prevent around 3,000 serious injuries a year in the UK. Be sure it’s fitted on your next car.
Like so many of the innovations here the crumple zone is about saving lives. All cars now feature these deformable structures that absorb the huge energy an impact causes. In doing so it increases the survivability of a crash for car occupants. Pioneered by Mercedes-Benz, but soon adopted industry-wide the crumple zone, in conjunction with seatbelts, airbags and other safety equipment has saved many millions of lives. Advanced computer modelling and crash testing has enhanced the strategic positioning of high strength materials and deformable sacrificial structures. This allows the crumple zones in more modern cars to be even better at dissipating energy around the car, providing significantly increased passenger protection.
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As recently as ten years ago it wasn’t uncommon for new cars to feature no airbags. Now airbags are a mandatory fit in the UK. Most cars come with at least two, with some featuring as many 9. So along with the conventional driver and passenger airbags we have side airbags, curtain airbags and even knee airbags. Many now feature dual stage inflation to maximise the cushioning during an impact. Unquestionably a factor in saving many lives, they do have their critics and can cause injuries and even death in some circumstances. However, used as instructed the airbags are a brilliant innovation that we all wish we will never have to see in action.
Air conditioning/climate control
While the majority of the innovations here are concerned with safety this one’s primarily about comfort. Blessed relief from the blazing heat, air conditioning, and even cleverer climate control is absolute bliss. Anything that keeps you cool behind the wheel is a good idea, but even more so when the mercury is hitting 40+ degrees as it nearly did earlier this summer. It’s not only good in the summer though, helping clear screens in the winter and keeping the temperature at your favourite level all year round. Standard on virtually everything bar the most inexpensive runabout, air conditioning in cars might not be particularly clever, but it’s still brilliant.
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Lighting technology has advanced at a remarkable rate in the past few years. There are quick acting, super bright LED brake lights - LED technology beginning to feature on headlamps, too. HID (High Intensity Discharge) headlamps using xenon gas (thus often referred to as xenon lamps) provide phenomenal lighting. And reflector and projector technology has advanced to better utilise the brilliant light modern bulbs produce. So now we can have headlamps that virtually turn night into day, while many now also offer the ability to follow curves in the road. Achieved by measuring a variety of variables including speed, road curvature and even weather conditions the results can be staggering. However, even these headlamps have their limitations. That’s perhaps why manufacturers like Mercedes and BMW increasingly offer night vision systems utilising infrared cameras.
In car entertainment
Like headlamps above, in-car-entertainment (ICE) systems are virtually unrecognisable from those of not long ago. Surround sound stereos, DVD players, pop-down video screens and games systems to keep rear seat passengers occupied are not unusual on even mainstream models today. Sure, you’ll have to pay a bit extra, but what cost peace and quiet? Some manufacturers are just waking up to the fact that nobody uses cassettes any more, meanwhile others are offering fully integrated MP3/iPod connectivity and MP3 reading CD and DVD players. With Bluetooth technology often incorporated to allow you to talk on the move legally, modern ICE is probably far better than your home entertainment equipment.
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If ever there were a function in a car that’s responsible for saving marriages and relationships then sat nav is it. And manufacturers seem to know it, charging heinous amounts for fully integrated systems. You can save a load of money by going the aftermarket route, but if you’re buying a premium car you really need the manufacturer’s own kit to ensure an easy future sale and protect residuals. Becoming ever more intelligent you can enter destinations by postcodes, addresses, special destinations or even grid references. Local knowledge sometimes foxes them slightly, but 99% of the time they’ll get you there, often now diverting you around traffic problems. So however expensive it is, it’s far superior than an irate passenger and a ragged old map.
Common rail injection
There were a number of technological advances that we could have included here, like radial tyres and power steering but perhaps the most recent to really have an impact is high-pressure common rail injection. It’s come about due to the development of super quick electronic control units that can precisely measure the injection process, allowing ever increasing pressures to be used. And the benefits of this? A finer mist of fuel in a perfectly measured quantity, that’s injected at precisely the right time to maximise the combustion process. It makes engines more powerful, while improving efficiency and reducing emissions. And it’s been proven at the Le Mans 24 hour race by Audi. Used mainly on diesel engines, the technology has also been adapted for petrol engines, common rail injection allowing us to travel further, faster and with less emissions than ever before.
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