Traditionally, automakers have focused their attention on passive safety systems, such as seatbelts. But, thanks to new sensor technology, the industry is developing a wide variety of active safety devices. Intelligent automotive technologies include adaptive cruise control, adaptive forward lighting, head-up display, night vision, tire-pressure monitoring and ultrasonic park assist systems.

Adaptive cruise control is designed to take the stress out of driving by maintaining a driver-selected distance from the vehicle in front of the driver. It monitors the headway interval between the car in front of the driver and maintains a safe distance by controlling throttle and brake control. The desired distance from the vehicle in front can be set by the driver. When the gap narrows, the system emits an audible warning or automatically slows the vehicle down.

In contrast to conventional static headlamps, adaptive forward lighting systems can vary the length, width and direction of the beam pattern. The reflector electronically swivels to the left or the right, depending on the angle of the steering wheel and the vehicle speed. When using the low beam, the system directs the light beam to the exact area that needs illumination, the direction in which the vehicle is moving.

Head-up display systems help drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel by presenting relevant driving information at or near the forward line of sight of the driver. The vehicle’s windshield is used as an optical element to project virtual images in the direct field of vision of the driver.

Night vision technology is designed to detect heat generated from objects using infrared technology, a camera and sensors installed on the front grille of a vehicle. Thermal energy images are converted into digital signals and are projected on a head-up display system. The system detects heat generated by objects both on and off the road, such as trees, sidewalks, animals and parked cars.

Tire pressure monitoring technology improves passenger safety by providing the driver with advanced warning of possible leaks, punctures or low pressure. It continuously monitors a vehicle’s tire pressure, internal tire temperature and tire acceleration rate for optimum performance.

Ultrasonic park assist technology allows a driver to safely back up, using ultrasonic sound waves to warn of any obstacles in the vehicle’s path. The system allows the driver to know how close the rear bumper is to an object while in reverse.

Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI) recently unveiled its T2S (Telematics to Safety) concept vehicle, which incorporates numerous safety innovations, such as:

  • Radar and vision systems that allow the vehicle to "see" and estimate the likelihood of potential traffic threats and warn the driver.
  • A hands-free voice system that provides control of the heating, cooling and entertainment systems.
  • A miniature camera mounted in the driver-side-mirror that provides enhanced visibility while backing up under varying lighting conditions.
  • A rear collision warning system that alerts the driver of an impending accident and then activates the vehicle’s safety belt pretensioners to optimally position the driver for minimal injury. The oncoming vehicle is alerted by a rear-mounted strobe light.
  • Side-mounted cameras that greatly enhance passenger-side visibility to help alert the driver to pedestrians, bicycles or merging vehicles.
  • A radar system that warns the driver when a vehicle is detected in a blind spot during a lane-change maneuver.
  • A vehicle-to-vehicle communication system that allows each vehicle to know the location, direction and speed of other vehicles on the road. This information is used to engage the safety belt system and warning system during a crash.
  • An advance warning system that uses changing colors in the A-pillars to warn the driver of a possible threat. A green light signifies all is safe, while red indicates that the forward, rearward or blind-spot precrash sensing system has determined a threat.