Night Systems

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It’s not just the darkness, but fog, smog and even the glare of light can prevent you seeing nearby obstacles. Introducing the automotive night system which can detect objects you wouldn’t see with mere headlights and alert the driver to them. Given its potential to improve safety and how long we’ve had the basic technology it may come as a shock that it only dates back to 2000. That means it came in about the same era as  Sat-Nav, which is also handy, but not a safety concern.

As with most innovations night systems were first installed in the luxury brand and even now hasn’t become a standard safety feature in mid-cost vehicles. The first car to employ an automotive night system was a Cadillac de Ville.  This style of Cadillac was originally developed in the 1950s, but it has undergone several generations of improvement.

From the start, the goal was to make automotive night system passive and intuitive so that they didn’t provide more distraction than a driver simply concentrating on the road ahead. All the systems employ an infrared beam to pick up on objects which the human eye would miss. The main difference in the systems is how it alerts the driver.

Less passive systems were introduced by  Mercedes and Toyota, which produce a black and white image for the driver.  The Mercedes can only use this function when you are going at 28 mph, presumably because you are less likely to be killed by a car traveling below 28 mph. (But honestly who  wants to be hit at any speed?)

You might think that as people aren’t used to black and white images that it might hard for a driver to know when to react. The people behind the DS Night Vision have thought of this. Its sensors give a red border around any objects that may be a potential danger, and then adds a yellow border if the danger changes to critical.

The BMW has a pedestrian detecting device which flashes a caution symbol if its infra-red senses that a pedestrian is in the driver’s “eye-line.” In recent years they added an animal detection device. If an animal is in the vicinity a number of LEDs will start flashing.

Should you discover something called “active vision” it means it only works on nearby obstacles. Far away obstacles can appear grainy in this type of footage, which isn’t necessarily a problem as such obstacles can generally be ignored.

Naturally the idea of creating a live stream in front of you to show you how the road is looking seems an obvious evolution. However, it’s currently thought to be too distracting.  As drivers become more accustomed to technology in cars its quite possible we’ll see this innovation soon.

As this is the latest in tech it will remain quite expensive for some time, to the detriment of the pedestrian and maybe other drivers. This isn’t, from a tech standpoint, much different than ordinary surveillance devices. Night vision comes standard on baby monitors these days. The safety of others seems to come secondary to price, which isn’t how other safety features have been prioritized. The court of public opinion can shift swiftly so perhaps we’re one bad night accident away from a handy new standard safety feature.

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The Car Interior

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Sometimes we buy a car for speed, sometimes for convenience, sometimes it’s a project to do up and sell. But there are many who buy a car because they look of the interior. Well, you only see the outside of the car now and then but the majority of the day will be spent seeing the interior, especially if you use it to commute. But interiors do not stay the same.

Some Changes Come in the form of Updates on the Same Theme

In the 1980s, for instance, the in thing was Mercedes with wood trim, leather upholstery and a superfluity of buttons. Having more buttons seemed a common selling point back then. They needed to be the right type of button though, the Audi V8, to give one example, had buttons which were too small to press.

Some exotic hardwoods, like mahogany, are banned, so current models from BMW or Aston Martin use color patterns which suggest a wood finish.

porsche-1583750_1920The selling point of the BMWi3’s interior is the car seats made of “active wool” which consists of various recycled materials such as plastic bottles. They are not exactly unique though, as other big names like Honda and Toyota use recycled materials in their seats as well as glove compartments. Whatever its origin it remains a good pitch for BMW.

Buttons have also gone out of fashion a bit, perhaps not for the better. The modern sleek look has inspired companies like Tesla to put as many things on sticks affixed to the steering column its hard to tell if you’re engaging the autopilot of adjusting the wheel tilt.

Other Changes are more Innovative:

Until recently you’ve been pretty much stuck with a couple seats and a dashboard, but there are ways around this too. Instead of the normal looking Sat Nav the Lincoln Navigator and the Bentley Continental has a center console located between the driver and the passenger. The Audi A8L operates by means of the two touchscreens and a gauge cluster.

It’s hard to create the truly original design but Carlex a car interior design company focuses on sleek images and the noticeable stitching in the car seats, which may lead the passengers to think of high-grade black denim jeans? There may be a problem here with sliding off the seats but presumably, they took that into consideration.

Some things don’t Change Regarding Interiors:

Other than adding or subtracting buttons or various control sticks, the basic design of the steering wheel hasn’t changed much since the first vehicles were built. So far technology has altered the dashboard mostly, but that may soon be changing.

With the introduction of Lidar systems (which use lasers to guide driving) and other connected vehicle technology, the way we drive may be altered forever, getting rid of the steering wheel entirely.

Can you Refurbish Your Car Interior?

Generally speaking, cars depreciate faster than say houses, so we don’t see a big market in people trying to restore of improving car interiors.

mercedes-benz-2498264_1920.jpgIt is not, however, unheard of. Some wealthier car owners have had their vehicle reupholstered because they liked everything else about the car except the feel of the seats. Vintage and classic car owners may restore the seat material as well, as part of the whole car makeover.

If you’re pondering doing it to improve resale value, check out the numbers first. It is hit and miss finding a buyer willing to pay that much more for a vehicle with a slightly improved interior. A car interior upholsterer is quite a niche market so an upholstery kit costs $800 and the professional to install it costs $750. If the total value of your car would go up more than $2,000 it could be an option. There’s probably a reason used car dealers just swap in new factor seats to handle such issues.

 

 

Auto Testing

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When you hear the words new car testing, what probably flashes to mind are dramatic videos of cars deliberately smashed against walls in a closed facility with a number of dummies inside. In reality, this is only one of the many tests cars go through before entering the market.

Post premarket auto tests are carried out in “the real world” to see how the car, including its components (paintwork, engine, etc) cope with the vigorous conditions; mud, fording streams, icy conditions and so on.

car-1242080_1920The actual number of tests that a manufacturer takes a car on is a closely guarded secret, but it is known that they use places like Death Valley or a test track in the mountains of Germany in order to see how the car operates. The testers are interested in how the car accelerates and, perhaps more importantly to us as drivers, how it brakes. Generally, they are looking for how the car handles on these extreme roads and this driving routine.

Driving smoothness in what most people might feel are unsmooth conditions is important. Although it would be impossible to remove all the bumps and jolts it is up to the designers the minimize discomfort.

Comfort is another aspect that people tend to need to think about. If the front seats or the back seats do not feel right some redesigning might be needed. Then there’s the problem of leaks, either air leaks or fluid leaks might need to be looked at. Is there a likelihood of something further along the line? Your prototype is your opportunity to address problems before they get truly expensive, which is when it’s gone into production.

Although unfamiliar to most of us, the industry refers to this as “rig and component level testing.” Think of the rig as another name for the chassis or body and the components as everything else. More precisely, rig testing works out exactly how durable and sensitive the chassis is to certain stimuli, and component testing focuses on individual elements and how they work together.

Some tests require the car to be built but others can be accomplished through computer simulations. Jaguar, for instance, uses computer simulation as a good way to save money. Why build a car that will be considered unsafe? Many people have heard of Computer Aided Design or CAD but the car industry is more reliant on CAE or Computer Aided Engineering. Simulation is hardly a new use of computers but as technology increases the number of virtual tests also increases.

Perhaps the single most important car feature, after safety, is fuel economy. Despite all the projections about miles per gallon, someone has to actually drive the car far enough to establish the actual number. Until recently, cars haven’t been very efficient in this respect, but car buyers are starting demand better efficiency even in luxury sedans and trucks. The need to save energy and fuel prices changes things.

There is so much testing involved in automobile manufacturing that is a wonder that any car ever goes into production at all. Perhaps more startling is the number of high profile recalls of cars in recent years given the rigorous testing designed to make the cars safer. Still, with all the money involved, and all the possibilities of what could go wrong, testing is an important step in the process.

 

The Sound of Silence

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This post was written by our overseas contributor, Paul. He’s from the U.K. so I’ve provided some interpretations for those of us in the U.S. Just having a go at you, Paul.

  • Indicators = Turn Signal
  • Windscreen = Windshield

The Sound of Silence

When you use a car all day every day you begin to recognize its individual sounds. The sound of the ignition starting up, the sound of the windscreen wipers, the sound of the indicators. When you hear a noise you don’t recognize you instantly get the feeling something is wrong. But stepping back a bit, why do cars make any noise at all?

We assume cars make a noise for the same reason jet airplanes make a noise–big engines are noisy. It’s all do with their mechanical nature. Despite the fact that many components in a car have become computerized, it is still really a mechanical object.

Internal combustion engines suck a fuel-air mixture into two or more chambers, and POW, there’s a series of explosion. Tiny explosions, sure, but it’s going to make a noise. That sound would actually be quite a bit louder except for the exhaust system which channels the exhaust and sound back along the bottom of your vehicle to dissipate it before dispersing it out to the world. Along the way, it goes through a muffler designed specifically to reduce the sound. (Except, of course, for the jerks that live behind my house, who’ve never heard of a muffler.)

But some noises are harder to place than others, the sound of rubber tires on the road is something we all recognize, but why do objects like the windscreen wipers and the indicators make the noise that they do?

Although they are performing mechanical functions, the circuitry performing these actions helps create a noise. In the case of the indicators, what we hear as a click is a circuit whose function is to cause the indicators to flash. This might not make much sense, as we encounter lights all day long which don’t make a noise, apart from some humming, but because the indicator is needed to flash, there needs to be a certain type of circuit here.

Why does a faster car make more noise? Well, when a car is accelerating its exhaust has to work harder. It’s quite complicated what is going on, but in layman’s terms, it is a mixture of axles, pistons, and transmissions which need to work harder in order to increase the speed. More work means more energy, which we hear as sound. This is also why the engine is more vocal when you start the car up, especially on cold days.

We tend to be more suspicious of the less mechanical noises, the thumps and the twangs, such as may happen when the tires rub against metal or something in the trunk hits the side of the car. It might be part of our survival instinct; no one wants to drive a vehicle which is a death trap. If there’s a problem it should be fixed. It doesn’t mean that everybody takes notices of these sounds, but many drivers feel it is part of maintaining a car properly.

One fun fact, new cars often come with long mileage tires which have very hard rubber. So they will make a lot more sound inside your car than the ones you put on later.

So what about a silent engine? Well, that can only be achieved by an electric car but they provide their own problems. Pedestrians are used to cars making a noise, so when they don’t hear a car they feel that no car is there. It makes sense, therefore, to add sound to the noise of the electric car. The only problem is that a selling point of an electric car was its smooth movement, its lack of noise. So you remove this if you add a different noise when the car is in motion.

For good or bad it seems that cars will be noisy for quite a time yet.