Meet the future of automotive safety

This adaptive headlights system is being blocked by the NHTSA, but Audi says its safer.
This adaptive headlights system is being blocked by the NHTSA, but Audi says its safer.
AUDI USA

At one point, luxury meant having leather seats and power windows. Today, it means having ambient lighting that you can change with your mood and a car that parks itself. As expectations change, we will see new features roll out every year, the same way that Apple introduces a new version of iOS like clockwork.

This expectation of constant technological advancement and connectivity has left automakers scrambling to deliver new features every year. Some are major breakthroughs in safety, others are fuel-saving drivetrain technologies. Here are some of the latest developments that automakers have in store for vehicles in the next year.

We recently test drove the all-new Jeep Cherokee, and were impressed by its off-road capability as well as its on-road mannerisms. One surprise was its ability to perpendicular-park. You may see cars that can parallel park themselves, but this system can lock onto, and back itself into, a traditional perpendicular spot. It even leaves enough space to open the door on both sides.

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This is just one of the many features that will stem from the wide range of sensors fitted into new cars. Consider the forward sensors used for adaptive cruise control, which can match the speed of the vehicle ahead of it and slow down to prevent a crash if the vehicle ahead of it stops. This feature, which was revolutionary only five years ago, is far more commonplace, and now allows for a cruise control that can creep along in heavy traffic, stopping and starting with the vehicle ahead of it.

A variation of this feature is found in the new Subaru EyeSight system. Not only can it do the whole adaptive cruise trick, but also if you are stopped at a red light, it will alert you if the vehicle ahead pulls away and you haven’t responded. This is in response to drivers distracted at lights by their phones. How often have you been at a light and you can tell the car in front of you hasn’t moved when the light changes because they are looking at their phone? You can’t change human behavior, but this new feature can make their bad habits less of a nuisance for you.

Infiniti has just unveiled a fascinating feature called the predictive forward collision system. Found in the new Q50 sport sedan, it can predict a collision two cars ahead of it by bouncing a radar beam off the ground under the car directly in front of it, up to the second car ahead.

Another new Infiniti feature is Direct Adaptive Steering, a drive-by-wire system that does not use a steering column. There are several benefits to such a steering method. In addition to saving weight, it is customizable. You can tune it for grocery-getting or for the track with the push of a button. Finally, it has unlimited packaging options. Hypothetically, you could put the steering wheel in the back seat, and it would not matter.

The Infiniti Q50 presently features redundant steering gear, present because of obvious safety regulations, and most buyers would prefer it stay that way. Other automakers are running into the same roadblocks, pushing the tech envelope while simultaneously trying to adhere to safety regulations that do not move quite as fast.

Audi has been having a rough go of bringing its latest tech features to the North American market. The brand that started the LED lighting craze with the Audi R8 has seen the rest of the industry adopt this feature, and it is looking to stay ahead of the curve.

In February, the German luxury brand was informed by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) that it could not bring its Matrix Beam headlights to American roads. This form of headlights can auto-dim certain sections of the road, while keeping others bright. In practice, it would dim the light that makes its way into the rear view mirror of the car in front of it while keeping the rest of the road bright.

For the moment, this feature and a new form of sequential forward turn signal have been given the no-go by NHTSA.

Audi’s case strikes at the heart of the auto industry’s dilemma. It is NHTSA’s job to ensure cars are safe, but they cannot hear every case and inspect every new feature that comes down the line. Basically, automakers are making new strides in technology features faster than the agency can test them. Most of these features, if not already green-lit, will be approved. So the future of certain technologies is a question of “when” not “if.”