Thursday May 8 2014

How technology is enhancing safety

By Peter Mutimba

Technology has always been a mixed bag of tricks. At times it has offered innovations that were frankly quite alarming. Take Sony for example. In 2006 they made laptop batteries with a nasty habit of exploding in your unsuspecting face. And it wasn’t just household appliances. Audi made the TT. A brilliant car by any standards, but one whose brakes suffered mood swings. You spotted an obstacle; you stood on the brakes and nothing happened. Suddenly you were no longer a driver but a helpless passenger, heading to the scene of an accident. But then, we have also witnessed some technological advances that have changed the rules of what can and cannot be done: Advances that have made motoring safer. Here is a compilation of some innovations seen in recent years.

Rear-mounted radar
When you drive in Kampala, backing out onto a busy street like that parking lot outside Shoprite Clock tower, is always a wonderful opportunity to discover some new swear words. You might imagine that just because it is a one-way street, all you have to do is watch the traffic from clock tower.That would be a mistake.

Boda bodas riding down the wrong end of the one-way will, in some very colourful language, catalogue how dizzyingly stupid you are. At this point there will be a lot of hooting from the cars now behind you. And then as you apologise and try to get back into the parking space, you will run over a texting teenager. More cursing will ensue. And then someone will snatch your phone.

This is where our rear mounted radar comes in handy. It uses a system of radar sensors to scan the vicinity and then sounds an alarm if there is approaching traffic or an object in your blind spot. Sounds neat doesn’t it? It was introduced in late model Fords and Chryslers.

Night vision with pedestrian detection
At the moment, only Mercedes and BMW offer this kind of technology. I suppose that justifies the price tag on the S-Class Mercedes. It uses a clever set of lights to project an image onto the monitor that the naked eye would have trouble seeing. Its locking system eerily picks up pedestrians like an apache gunship and then displays warnings on the windshield. No. it does not shoot them.

Driver capability
This one is a bit like an on-board psychiatrist. At the peak of your powers, while you are wide awake and sober, the car picks up the pattern of your normal behaviour-- In essence, your default setting. Should you deviate from this behaviour, say you are sleepy, tired, destructively angry or you have had one too many, it will notice, and will proceed to issue warnings. The system has not been designed to stop the car if it deems you unfit, but I would not be surprised to see that extra in the near future.