Often we don’t think as cars as technology. Instead we tend to think of them as hunks of metal with mechanical parts. Computers are technology, cars are just… cars.
In fact though this is a very unfair way of looking at vehicles which are just as high tech as any of the other devices you use and in many ways moreso. Read on and we’ll see just what technological marvels even the oldest of old bangers really is…
More Than Meets the Eye
Cars often don’t ‘seem’ high tech because they’ve been around for so long. This doesn’t make them any less miraculous in terms of their engineering though and in fact there are many aspects of a car that are highly advanced even though they might seem rather mundane on the face of it.
Take the windshield for instance. It seems like a pretty standard sheet of glass with nothing too interesting about it but actually it’s much more exciting than that.
Instead of being one piece of glass, a car windshield is actually two layers of identical glass that have been laid flat against each other with just a thin layer running in between. In this small gap there is some adhesive laminate plastic as well as a little air.
This is the result of trial and error on the part of car manufacturers and especially Ford in the early days. They found that using just a single piece of glass meant that stones and pebbles would often come straight through and shatter the windshield causing serious injuries and accidents for the drivers and passengers.
By using two identical layers of glass these windshields could prevent projectiles from making it all the way through onto the dashboard and furthermore the adhesive plastic meant that even when the glass broke, it would be held in place and not fall or shatter.
Other technologies have subsequently been added to the windshield too. From tinted glass that gets gradually darker to wire mesh that can be used to heat your glass up and thereby dispel any condensation.
Your Car… Artificially Intelligent?
If it’s something more recent and more ‘obviously’ technological you’re looking for then how about cars that can park themselves? While this technology all goes on ‘under the hood’ as it were, it’s actually rather incredible what processing is required for this to work. Here, the car first uses cameras and sensors in order to not only ‘see’ the parking space and the space around itself, then takes that footage and uses image analysis and complex algorithms in order to work out the correct movement in order to park seamlessly and efficiently.
This is essentially similar technology to the technology you get inside your Kinect – the ability to see something through a camera and then understand what that information means based on slight differences in contrast, angles etc.
If you don’t have a car that parks itself, perhaps you have a parking sensor. Even these are fairly smart in the way they work: essentially using sonar (the same as bats) in order to emit a supersonic frequency and then wait for those sound waves to rebound off of the surface behind. The car then times how long it takes for the signal to return and thereby calculates the distance between your car and any objects behind it.
If you have a built-in sat nav then your car contains even more incredible technology. Sat nav works in a similar way – by bouncing signals and seeing how long it takes for them to return. What makes sat nav different though is the fact that those signals are actually being bounced off of satellites orbiting around the Earth in geostationary positions. By timing how long three signals take to return, your car can then triangulate its position and corroborate this information with maps data it carries on-board.
Your average car then actually contains a ton of amazing technology. Everything from a windshield to the dodge engine brake is more complicated than it appears and meanwhile your car is communicating with satellites and understanding the world around it…