Headlights go LED...and laser?
Lasers are much better known as surgical devices—or even sci-fi plot devices—than lights themselves. But now BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and potentially other automakers are working to build laser-based headlights, to arrive within just a few years
. The potential: very compact packaging and greater intensity, all with better energy efficiency (which might make them great picks for electric cars). Laser headlights bode well—and they make the somewhat bluish light of pricey xenon lamps look so...2001.
Meanwhile, the white beams of light-emitting diode (LED) running lamps and brake lights first hit the market in a few exotic and luxury cars many years ago now, but they're just starting to reach the mainstream and be used for the headlamps themselves. Look for them now in the 2012 Toyota Prius, as well as many luxury-brand vehicles.
Volvo's life-saving City Safety.
Despite an unfortunate early demonstration for the press
, and a few low-speed demos that didn't fully illustrate the point, Volvo's new City Safety system, now offered in the 2012 S60, XC60, XC70, and S80, is a lifesaver in the real world. In fact, the system, which was introduced last year but has been installed in thousands of vehicles this year, is doing so well that the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) earlier this year found that owners of the Volvo XC60 with the device were filing about 50 percent fewer bodily injury claims
—whether compared to other vehicles in its class, or other Volvos in general.
Using a combination of radar sensors and a camera system, can identify potential issues up ahead—other vehicles, or pedestrians or obstacles in some cases—and warn the driver with a chime and light. In some versions (and situations), the system could do the braking for you, to either lessen the impact or, at lower speeds, prevent it entirely.
While systems employing radar are expensive, we hope to see features incorporating some of the smarts of City Safety trickle down to other mainstream models very soon.
Fair warning for drowsy, distracted drivers.
In 2011, we've paid quite a lot of well-deserved attention toward the issues of cellphone-related distraction. But in today's frenzied, sleep-deprived world, driving drowsy is a serious problem. Mercedes-Benz introduced an earlier version of Attention Assist, several years ago in its current E-Class; unlike systems that aim a camera at the driver, it primarily reads the patterns as we make fine steering adjustments, identifying when attention is lapsing and sounding a chime and coffee-cup symbol. What we applaud in 2012 is that it's now fine-tuned the system, and made it standard in the newly redesigned 2012 M-Class
. And the feature looks ready to find its way into mainstream vehicles; Ford is also adding a driver-alert feature to its Lane Keeping Technology, available in the Ford Explorer.
The drowsy-driving warning could make a significant difference in fatalities. According to Mercedes-Benz, 25 percent of serious accidents are caused by driver fatigue, and chances of an accident for drivers who've been on the road for four hours is doubled—or eight times higher after six hours of driving.