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Safer Driving Through Technology
by John R. Quain
The New York Auto Show (April 6 to 15)

Before its doors open to the public, the New York Auto Show traditionally runs a couple of press-only days. Last week was no exception with the requisite final auto announcements before the 2008 models hit showroom floors this fall. The dog and horsepower show ran from the pedestrian to the exotic, but the most interesting announcements had to do with technologies designed to improve the driver experience, to wit:

Infiniti EX Concept • Infiniti debuted its EX Concept “personally sized” SUV (in other words, it's small). The vehicle is no longer just a concept; it will appear as the EX35 before the end of the year and includes two interesting, first-of-their-kind technologies: Lane Departure Prevention, which uses a camera sensor to detect when a driver drifts out of a lane (without signaling) and then applies brakes to correct the problem if the driver fails to do so, and the Around View Monitor, which uses four individual cameras to give drivers a bird’s eye view of the vehicle when parking (more on this in a future story).

• Ford hyped its Microsoft control system, dubbed Sync. It is designed to reduce driver distraction by putting hands-free phone operation, voice-activated music player controls, and text-to-speech software for reading back text messages into a single package. Perhaps more important, there’s a USB port, which brings some measure of standardization to the fragmented car market. No more cigarette lighter adapters; just get a charge via the USB port.

Naturally, there was a bevy of car introductions, as well.

CLK63• While playing the Mission Impossible theme and firing off plenty of pyrotechnics, Mercedes-Benz introduced its CLK63 AMG Black Series, a street legal version of its F1 Safety car. The CLK63 has 500 horses under the hood and does 0 to 60 in a snappy 4.1 seconds, but what’s really amazing is how, well, how ugly the car is.
Volvo XC70

• Volvo showed off its rather impressive XC70 wagon. The company has taken nearly every design suggestion and customer desire and put it all into a single vehicle, including two-level booster seats, Bluetooth, hidden cargo nets, a push-button powered hatch (with safety sensors), fold-flat rear seats, a sliding cargo floor, and hidden cup holders galore. Of course, the car also has a panoply of safety features, including adaptive cruise control, collision warning, blind spot warnings, and swiveling headlights. Hopefully, the vehicle will drive as well as it looks. J-Q.com

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