If the safety technology unveiled at the recent Forward with Ford Conference in Deerborn, Mich. is a true indication of what's to come for drivers in the very near future, cars won't exactly be driving themselves – but they're thinking about it.
The two-day Ford event explored emerging tech on multiple fronts, including alternative fuel research, improved voice control science, renewable material development and smart intersection abilities. The safety section of the program included presentations on current and future driving security by engineering and medical experts. Ford touted their innovative inflatable seat belts that serve as restraining airbags that protect children more securely.
Ford’s medical experts demonstrated how the traditional design of seat belts – especially in rear seat placements where children usually ride – can inadvertently cut off air flow or injure the necks of kids in car seats. On impact, the inflatable seat belts expand into a larger protective, restrictive surface.
During the track day portion of the event, press could jump into a Ford Taurus SHO or a Mustang GT 500 for a run around the wet skid track to test the latest advances in traction control. At speed on the wet course, even the professional drivers on hand couldn't manage the oversteer and fishtailing. But, the traction control kept even the rear-power heavy Mustang in line. It proved an effective test as no sane driver will run these two Ford performance cars at such speeds on a wet surface.
Professional drivers also took reporters out into simulated intersections to demonstrate Ford’s emerging technologies on external sensors, intersection assistant, lane change and passing assistance and blind spot elimination. Ford vehicles all soon come equipped with the ability to alert the driver if he or she is missing a vehicles outside their rear view mirror – or if passing is ill-advised due to a possible collision – an alarm sounds to correct the driver.
An off-road course and a squadron of Ford Explorers offered a look at adjustable suspension settings and hill control abilities. Dials allow specified loading of traction and support from the computer-monitored suspension, allowing equipped Fords to shift from dusty tracks to muddy paths with the driver having to make major driving style adjustments. Hill controls deploy limited acceleration and automatic braking to make certain the Ford descends a hill at the same speed as the ascent – preventing the truck or SUV from bottoming out due to too fast a decline.
This reporter passed on Ford’s automatic parallel parking demo as I believe cars that park themselves should be outlawed. I don’t hold Ford responsible for this sad motoring development as its becoming an industry trend. Still, one of the surest indicators of whether a man is a capable friend and a competent, contributing member of our species is the ability to parallel park. Would you want to have a beer with a guy who told you he was hopeless at parking? Cars that pass that test for the driver allow such feeble non-combatants to hide amongst us.
Of course, for the car enthusiasts amongst the group who haven't yet bothered to grow up – because what fun is that, really – the highlight of the safety demonstrations strayed as far away form "safety" as the weekend could allow. To show how much damage just a 30 mph crash can do to a car, Ford engineers executed a crash test on an ill-fated Ford Focus.
Obviously, Ford was looking to demo how its crumple zones protect drivers and passengers – while serving up a look at proper airbag deployment. But to car loving drivers who accept the need for safety precautions only begrudgingly and childishly, it was a chance to see a big crash up close and personal.
While technicians explained what was about to happen, they issued a warning of the impending noise and told sensitive souls to cover their ears. At that moment, sane people did so – while the car nuts impishly grinned at each other with a collective "Like hell…" attitude.
Fortunately, the safety features already built into Fords – along with those coming in upcoming models – will preserve both the sensible drivers and the juvenile souls who live for the squealing tires, spin-outs and big booms.