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Top Vehicle Safety Tech Features Roundup for 2011

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Civic Symbol Suite: 40 New Icons for the Public Domain!

Two of the 40 icons designed by volunteers for Code for America and The Noun Project.

Although it is too early to know all the auto safety innovations that will come about in 2012, various articles are taking stock of top auto technologies in 2011, many of them focused on safety. Bengt Halvorson, in his roundup for Speed, says that connectivity, via applications, is 2011’s top automotive tech story. He writes that one “key thread” of 2011 “is the advancement of safety-tech and accident-avoidance features into their second or third generations, with cost coming down on some items, allowing us to see such features as obstacle detection and blind-spot alert in much more affordable models.”

Halvorson cites Volvo’s “life-saving” City Safety feature as one of the highlights of 2011: “Now offered in the 2012 S60, XC60, XC70 and S80, the system is doing so well that the Highway Loss Data Institute earlier this year found that owners of the Volvo XC60 with the device were filing about 50 percent fewer bodily injury claims, whether compared with other vehicles in its class or other Volvos in general.”

City Safety warns drivers with a chime and a light when other vehicles, pedestrians, or obstacles present issues on the road, by using a combination of radar sensors and a camera system. In some versions of the program, the system will do the braking for the driver to prevent a collision or reduce its impact. Halvorsen notes that radar systems are pricey, but says, “we hope to see features incorporating some of the smarts of City Safety trickle down to other mainstream models very soon.”

Drowsy driving is another safety problem that some car makers dealt with in 2011. Halvorsen looks ahead to 2012 in mentioning the newly designed Mercedes-Benz M-Class, in which the company’s Attention Assist of several years ago has been fine-tuned and made standard. Unlike those systems that focus a camera at the driver, this one mostly notices the patterns the driver makes in fine steering adjustments. When the driver’s attention is lapsing, Attention Assist sounds a chime and shows a coffee cup symbol.

Halvorson writes:

The feature looks ready to find its way into mainstream vehicles, with Ford 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, with chances of an accident for drivers who’ve been on the road for four hours doubled, and eight times higher after six hours of driving.

When self-driving cars eventually appear on the market, drowsy driving could be a thing of the past. Google’s self-driving car made headlines in 2011 when announcements were made that it was being tested. It is not known when such a car would be in wide use, or — once it is — who would be accountable should it have an accident when driving on its own.

As self-driving cars are not available to buy yet, how about one that a driver could control with thoughts alone? Lilly Workneh lists it on CNN Tech as one of the “Top 10 most bizarre tech stories of 2011.” As she explains, in this system, developed by scientists at Germany’s Free University, the driver wears a high-tech helmet that is linked to an onboard computer with a cube displayed on its screen. The driver can manipulate the cube with his or her thoughts alone.

“Using biological signals as patterns, the driver can pilot the car to drive in any direction, accelerate or break,” she writes. The invention is being called a “proof of concept experiment” only. It is anyone’s guess as to when it might go into production — if ever.

Finally, some road safety signs were among 40 new civic icons and symbols praised for their excellent design by John Cary, writing for Archinect in his article “Top 10 Design Milestones of 2011 — for the public good.” The symbols, which include such driving-related icons as “pothole,” “flood,” “schoolbus stop,” “curbside pickup,” “detour,” and “electric car plug-in,” were designed by volunteers marshaled by Code for America and The Noun Project, both dedicated to “sharing, celebrating and enhancing the world’s visual language.”

As Cary writes: “All 40 icons are available for free as vector files, begging to be put to work in signage, apps, and elsewhere.” You can see two of them at the top of this blog post.

And here is a video about the thought-powered car:

Image by Code for America and The Noun Project, used under Fair Use: Reporting.