Snazzy tricks border on science fiction
A centre airbag being tested.

All right, the widely predicted flying car didn't eventuate. But I'm not shattered by that.

More motoring safety:
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Although, when sitting in jams, I do sometimes look up wistfully at all that free space above the traffic. But, sad as it may be, mass-production flying cars are not on major car makers' radars.

In many other ways, though, cars are performing some pretty snazzy tricks, many of which would have sounded like sci-fi not long ago. And the good news is these technologies will quickly trickle down to everyday cars.

Here's a sample.

Clever cruise control: Via the use of radar, the speed of your car adjusts to that of the vehicle ahead. It makes for relaxing driving in ebb-and-flow traffic. Audible and visual warnings then emergency braking occur if the vehicle ahead slows suddenly. The technology will be part of future car-to-car communication systems that will improve traffic flow and prevent accidents.

Second set of eyes: Sensors scan the adjacent lanes for other vehicles. When there is a car in a position that would make a lane change dangerous, a light in the relevant wing mirror illuminates. If the driver were to nevertheless indicate to change lanes, the light would flash a warning.

Wake-up call: A small camera watches the lane markings ahead. If the car begins to wander without a turn signal being activated, a warning buzzer or vibrating steering wheel provides a wake-up call to inattentive or dozy drivers. The vibrations cleverly simulate running over rumble strips.

Pedestrian saviour: Volvo's system is able to stop the car short of a pedestrian from speeds up to about 30km/h. It uses a devilishly smart camera trained to detect just the human form - not cars or dogs. If the system deems a collision is imminent, it warns the driver then, if necessary, will apply the brakes at the last moment. The late reaction is vital otherwise the car would be continually jerking on heavily populated streets.

Self-parking car: Some cars have sensors that measure potential parallel parking spots. The car will then steer itself into the spot. The best bit is your parking is achieved in one go. No embarrassing second attempts.

Bird's-eye view: Sick of scraping those expensive alloy wheels on kerbs? You need this. Tiny cameras mounted around the car combine to create a bird's-eye view of the car and its immediate surroundings on the vehicle's screen. It's also great for avoiding scrapes when parking.

Airbags in unusual places: We already have front, side, curtain and knee airbags. What next? Most likely centre airbags, which prevent occupants who are sitting side-by-side from hitting each other in a side collision.

Magic screens: To avoid driver distraction, front screens in cars will not show TV or DVDs when the car is moving. But what about the poor front passenger? Well, now there's an answer. Some screens from the driver's angle show relevant information, such as the satellite navigation map. But from the passenger's angle the screen is showing a movie. Magic. Headphones ensure only the passenger hears the soundtrack.

The West Australian

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