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High-tech is Giving Drivers Another Set of Eyes on Highways

Advances in automotive technology are giving drivers another set of eyes. There is parking assistance that backs a car into a parking space, miniature cameras that help a driver see at night and in blinding sunlight, detection devices that sound an alert when a driver crosses into a lane without activating the turn signal or starts to get too close to a pedestrian.

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From Philadelphia Inquirer

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PHILADELPHIA — Advances in automotive technology are giving drivers another set of eyes.

There is parking assistance that backs a car into a parking space, miniature cameras that help a driver see at night and in blinding sunlight, detection devices that sound an alert when a driver crosses into a lane without activating the turn signal or starts to get too close to a pedestrian.

These intelligent transportation systems – some of which were showcased at this year’s Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit – come as the American driving population fights more traffic congestion, deals with more distractions, grows older, and drives more.

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Nationwide, the number of vehicles owned in the country has grown from 111.2 million in 1970 to 235.5 million in 2001, according to the latest study released by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The number of miles driven on U.S. highways has gone from 1.1 billion in 1970 to 2.7 billion in 2001.

“We are much more willing to drive down to the corner store to buy a loaf of bread, go back home, and return again to buy ice cream,” said David Schrank, an institute researcher. “That is the way society has moved, and that means there is more travel on our roadways.”

Add to those stats the fact that drivers are talking on cell phones, tuning in satellite radio, and getting older. It is estimated that by the year 2020, more than 15 percent of drivers will be older than 65.

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Daniel Popplestone, 50, is a longtime Troy, Mich., resident who said he would like to have more technology on his car that tells him how close he may be getting or if there is a car in a blind spot.

“The unknown spot is what concerns me,” said Popplestone, who has watched two-lane roads in his area change to mini-highways with two lanes in both directions. “It’s harder to get everywhere.”

Some companies and their products that may serve as a solution in the future:

Mobileye. An accessory that allows consumers to mount a miniature camera behind their rearview mirror. The camera system, loaded with complex mathematical equations, identifies cars, trucks and people. A box mounted on the dashboard shows the distance between the car and the object and sounds an alert when the two objects get too close.

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Continental Teves. Its Electronic Stability Control system uses vehicle sensors to compare the driver’s intention with the vehicle’s actual behavior. A central microcomputer analyzes the incoming data and when skidding or sliding is detected, the control triggers a response to provide stability.

Denso Corp. A precollision system that automatically tightens passenger seat belts and activates brakes to reduce speed when a collision is unavoidable.

Omron Automotive Electronics. A high dynamic range camera produces electronic digital images that allow drivers to see the road at night or when the sun is shining in their faces.

Aisin. A parking system that uses a camera and computer system to perform difficult maneuvers in tight spaces such as parallel parking places. Drivers keep their foot slightly on the brake while the system does the rest.

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“We think that at the very least, the challenges of driving are not going to become less,” said Don Whitsitt, senior vice president of Aisin, based in Plymouth, Mich. “Cars are a lot better and a lot safer, but that doesn’t mean we have to rest on that.”

But Sue Furness, vice president of research for the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, adds a word of caution.

“We need to be careful that there aren’t too many technologies for drivers,” she said. “We need to think about the downside and if we are really addressing what is going to help people get down the road so we don’t overpromise.”

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Copyright 2004 Philadelphia Inquirer. All Rights Reserved.

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