Car Tech

Tech That Makes Us Say “Holy Cow!”

Technology is neat. It lets us take pictures with our phones. It lets us remote-control stuff in our houses, while we’re not in our houses. Recently, technology has even allowed mankind to discover a brand new planet circling a nearby sun, and to detect gravity waves using a big-ass laser.

Technology is great stuff: and it’s changing the way cars work, and the way we humans drive them. In some cases, new car technology even makes us stop in our tracks and say ‘HOLY COW!!” – and below is a list of five new, mostly mainstream technologies that made us do just that in the past year.

Continuous Damper Control (CDC) (Various GM Models)


We’ve enjoyed this quiet bit of technology in numerous GM models this year, including the all-new Buick LaCrosse sedan, and the all-new Cadillac XT5 crossover. Using a special computer-controlled valve in each damper to regulate their behavior, models with the CDC system actively work to enhance compliance on all surfaces – giving drivers a more comfortable ride, more of the time.

Even more impressive is what the CDC system does for unwanted body motions – which is to all but totally eliminate them. With CDC, even larger bumps or upsets from the road cause little more than a slight squirm of the vehicle’s body. The dampers neutralize the impact, and compensate for resulting body motions in real time. From the driver’s seat? The CDC equipped vehicle virtually hovers down the road, turns big bumps into little ones, and rides like a big, squishy luxury car – but without the wallowing, flubbery bounciness.

This isn’t new or revolutionary tech these days, but it is coming to more and more vehicles, which is great news for the long-haul driver.

Pre-Safe Sound (Mercedes E-Class)


Thankfully, this is a system we didn’t try out, since it’s intended to engage only when an impact is deemed to be all but unavoidable. The gist? Pre-Safe Sound kicks in when you’ve borked things up something fierce, and your E-Class figures you’re about to crash.

Crashes are noisy, because of the sound of exploding glass, crunching metal, horns, airbag detonators, and the like. To help compensate, Pre-Safe Sound plays a special tone over the stereo, right before impact, which engages a natural self-defence mechanism deep within your ear. The sound causes the muscles around your tiny hearing bones to tighten up, protecting them from damage. While the vehicle protects occupants in a collision, Pre-Safe sound works to protect your hearing.

Who comes up with this stuff? Highly-paid scientists, we figure.

Volvo Large Animal Detection System


Interior Large Animal Detection 1

Moose are clumsy and delicious creatures characterized by their tree-like antlers, strong odor and monstrous genitals. Common in Northern climates, they spend approximately 87 percent of their lives eating delicious leaves, and remainder hunting for new leaves, drinking from ponds, and pooping.

According to information from Volvo, driving through a highway surrounded by wilderness at 90 km/h will see drivers pass within 300 meters of an animal about twice a minute. Some of those animals are moose. And sometimes, those moose (or elk, or horses), find their way onto the road in front of you, and that means you’ve got a serious problem.

Enter Volvo’s Large Animal Detection system: an extension of the brand’s pedestrian and cyclist-detecting City Safety system, it uses camera and radar inputs, and a whackload of computer processing, to detect the presence of large creatures up the way, and to determine if said creatures are moving into the vehicle’s path.

If that’s the case, the vehicle can alert the driver, and even self-apply vehicle brakes, to avoid or mitigate a collision. This technology recently helped Volvo’s Pilot Assist II system earn the title of Best New Safety Technology from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

Multibeam LED Camera-Linked Headlamps (Mercedes Benz)


Here’s another bit of slick new tech from Benz that advances automotive lighting to new levels. First were headlights. Then came adaptive headlights, which steer in sync with the steering wheel, to cast more light where it’s needed around corners after dark. Today, camera-linked adaptive headlights are a thing that exists. The Mercedes Multibeam LED lighting system uses the on-board camera to analyze lane markings, and thereby the direction of the road ahead. With this information, headlight projectors are pre-steered into corners, independently of the steering, enhancing lighting and illumination even further.

From the driver’s seat? The car sees corners in the road before you steer, and sets up the lighting accordingly. Drivers get more effective light where it’s needed, more of the time. This enhances safety, comfort, and can dramatically reduce eye fatigue, too. After all, keeping your peepers in tip-top shape is a great way to stay safe and alert in the dark.

i-ACTIV AWD Power Coupler (Various Mazda Models)


As an avid winter driving enthusiast and card-carrying AWD geek, this one was your writer’s favorite technology tidbit from the past year or so. In Mazda models equipped with the i-ACTIV AWD system, a computer controller monitors inputs from a wide range of sensors, 200 times, every second. That’s massive! 200 is a lot. It takes me a week or more to do anything 200 times.

The system’s ability to monitor a multitude of parameters so frequently is only half the battle, though – and that’s why the i-ACTIV AWD system is also equipped with special hardware that lets it act on the inputs as fast as they come in.

That’s the job of the Power Coupler: a coffee-can sized cylinder full of clutches and electromagnets and fanciness that can clamp up or ease up on its internal clutches, thereby altering the amount of torque sent to the rear axle, at the speed of electricity (which is to say, instantly).

Just four amps locks the clutches, and therefore the front and rear axles together. And here’s the neat stuff: to compensate for minor variances in response characteristics of each individual power coupler, each unit is run through a barrage of diagnostic tests at the factory, and the results are programmed into the recipient vehicle’s AWD system computer for fine-tuning.

Response test results on each coupler generate a bar code that’s scanned into each individual ECU – effectively pre-programming the vehicle to compensate for miniscule differences between each power coupler, and creating an AWD system that can respond to sensor inputs at lighting speed.