Technology advances at an ever increasing speed; at least that how it seems. Ten years ago few people had heard of ‘mirrorless’ cameras and yet today they vastly outsell the bulky SLR’s we are used to. Our smartphones are not just cyber-extensions of our hands, they are also extensions of how we live our lives: For the most part we would be lost without them.
The Olden Times
It’s the same with cars. When Karl Benz first rolled his ‘motorwagen’ out of his shed in 1886 he could never have dreamed about a day that cars would actually start to think for themselves and drive themselves. If the history of the motor car is considered, for many years our motors remained largely the same; they had four wheels, a steering wheel and a fossil-fuelled engine. If we were lucky, there would be a radio and a rudimentary heater.
The Modern Times
When designers found there was a limit to what cars looked and drove like, they began to think about what could go inside and what could be done about safety. Over time this brought us ABS braking systems and air conditioning, for example. From then on the advance of technology gained size and pace like a snowball rolling down a mountain side. In fact, the last ten years have seen quite dramatic developments:
Mapping A Route
The mainstay of the travelling motorist was once a book of maps, perhaps supplemented by a compass. Routes would be planned in advance and maps consulted on the road. It was how we did it.
Then, one day, someone had the bright idea to take all of the maps and digitise them into compact, plug-in devices that work by using Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite technology to calculate a vehicle’s position, thus pinpointing the location to within ten metres. Aligned with up-to-date stored digital maps, we are able to set a destination when setting off.
These devices were once add-on features but are now pretty much integrated into a car’s dashboard as part of the whole infotainment world that has developed in a short space of time. First there was Bluetooth and now cars support Android and Apple apps, linking hands with our smartphones.
The advances in automotive safety are not to be underestimated. Airbags have been around for a while now initially numbering two for the front seats. Now four is commonplace and some cars can deploy up to ten to help protect occupants from most if not all impact scenarios.
Unknown ten years ago, our vehicles are now bristling with accident avoidance features that use Radar and LiDAR technology for collision warning systems and collision mitigation, blind spot recognition, pedestrian detection and proximity alerts.
Driving Expense Increases
Despite other economic ups and downs, the price of motoring continues to rise and manufacturers have countered that by developing smarter, greener, more economic motors. Ten years ago, although we grumbled about it, motorists didn’t really worry too much about the price of petrol: Well, it certainly features now.
Largely because of this and concerns about our environment, the last decade has seen the arrival of hybrid and fully electric cars. Increasingly fossil-fuel engines have delivered many more miles to the gallon and it is engineering technology we have to thanks for that.
A Car That Speaks For Itself
Not so very long ago drivers only knew when they had a puncture when the tyre fully deflated. Over the last few years cars have learned how to identify issues in advance. For example, some cars can now tell their owners when tyre pressures are individually low, hinting at possibly problems down the road. Cars have had warning lights for many years but these days they are much more sophisticated; if a motor isn’t feeling tip-top it will tell the driver.
Once, when motorists spoke to their cars it was usually to curse them as they steamed vapour out from faulty thermostats. Now it is possible to have a nice chat. You can ask the personal assistant to call a friend or find a garage or give voice commands for an in-car function. If necessary the car will be happy to park itself, possibly even making a better job of it.
There are many more cars on the road than even a decade ago but the road infrastructure has not kept pace. Accidents and fatalities remain commonplace. The huge advances in road safety technology coupled with much improved efficiency and fewer emissions increasingly help to protect us from ourselves. We have modern technology to thank for that. In science, ten years is a long time.