The Road Ahead : August September 2007
AUG/SEP 07 45 Airbags expanding It's now 50 years since Ford tested the first automotive airbag. Today, there are 12 different types of airbag on the market, including one lining the underside of the roof and those protecting the front occupants' knees, as in the Lexus SC430. Work is also advanced on airbags integrated into seatbelts and exterior bags that cushion the blow should the car strike a pedestrian. WITH PEDR DAVIS Audio boom Remember when a car radio was optional and came with a single speaker fixed to the rear parcel shelf? The latest Mitsubishi Pajero has a 650 watt amplifier playing through 12 speakers designed for optimum acoustic characteristics. It's par t of a trend that's seen the audio system become the enter tainment hub of the family car. Some have elaborate dashboard screens giving options ranging from iPod input to digital filters for clearer radio reception. More impor tantly, sound quality is improving significantly. Some models have, or are getting, built-in hard drives able to store enough music for several days of listening. F A Q S Golden globes Q.I recently saw some promotional information on replacement headlight globes stating they were made from UV-block glass. Is this impor tant or just more marketing nonsense? A.Modern cars are generally fitted with headlight lenses made from polycarbonate, a ver y hard and tough clear thermoplastic. However, ultraviolet light (UV) emitted by headlight globes can cause damage and clouding of the polycarbonate. Globes made with UV- block glass cut this par t of the light spectrum, preventing damage. Always fit replacement UV cutting globes. Crossing on the level Q.When must drivers stop and then proceed at a level crossing? A.Drivers must stop at a level crossing if there is a stop sign/line at the crossing. Also, they must not enter the level crossing if warning lights and/or warning bells are operating, a gate, boom or barrier is closed/ opening/closing, an approaching train can be seen from the crossing or is sounding a warning, or if the driver cannot get through the crossing because it or the road beyond the crossing is blocked. Drivers must safely leave the crossing as soon as possible. TOP GEAR Blow and belt up Alcohol remains a major contributor to road crashes, so Volvo has developed an experimental breathalyser built into the seatbelt buckle. The driver cannot star t the engine without locking the seatbelt and cannot lock the seatbelt without getting the green light from the breathalyser. If it detects alcohol, the unit glows red and the seatbelt lock is disabled. No belt, no motoring. Volvo also has an experimental ignition key that can be programmed to limit the car's speed to a set figure, such as 80 km/h. A clever but contentious idea. No-fire collisions Far too many people are burned -- some fatally -- in road collisions but a new Australian invention claims to reduce the risk by up to 80 percent. Called VSS, the system has been shor t-listed for this year's prestigious INNOVIC 'Next Big Thing' award. Invented by John Quee of Nyngan, NSW, it comprises a fuel shut- off valve and a batter y isolation unit. The latter is impor tant because it reduces the fire risk should the fuel tank rupture. Crash sensor technology activates both systems in one-tenth of the time it takes an airbag to fully inflate. Hydrogen on the cards Dr Michael Brear is one of many who looks at hydrogen as a real alternative to oil-based, carbon dioxide emitting fuels. He's heading up a $3 million project that brings together talent from the University of Melbourne and Ford Australia. The aim is to produce a practical, low-cost hydrogen combustion engine and fuel tank. The work will concentrate on developing smaller and more efficient ways of storing liquid hydrogen, a major stumbling block so far.
June July 2007
October November 2007