Ahead of the curve: sampling the future of automotive tech
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Writing about cars used to be simple. Each car would be approached with a relatively minor checklist of obvious questions. Does it look good? Is it roomy? Is it well made? How commodious is the ash tray?
But cars have moved on; and are continuing to move on at an exponentially quickening rate. Having invented the car in the late 1800s, it took the world around 80 years to make devices such as cruise control a mainstream feature. It took a further 30 or so years to implement laser and radar technology and create adaptive cruise control.
And now, just as radar technology has started to trickle down into the mainstream, we're only a matter of years away from autonomous cars.
Change is coming, whether we like it or not.
A manufacturer that has been at the core of each of those advancements is Mercedes-Benz, and it invited us to peek through a window into the future of automotive technology at a Hampton Downs Motorsport Park Mercedes-Benz Driving Event.
The German marque stages versions of these events all over the world, exclusively for Mercedes-Benz owners and invited guests. The events vary, from track and snow-focused performance tests, to adventurous off-roading courses, to technology-based events such as this one.
The day would be divided into modules, where drivers would be able to take each and every safety measure to its limit. To do this, a full spread of new Mercedes-Benz vehicles was on offer.
Not just your standard serving of C and E Class machines, either. Among the line-up was a tough-as-nails 350D G Wagon, as well as an enormous 18 ton Arocs truck.
At our disposal we had the Hampton Downs skidpan, off-road area, and the full extended International circuit to play with.
But while fanging the G Wagon through the off-roading section displayed just how good a tool Mercedes' oldest model still is on adverse surfaces, and while driving the Arocs around the small club circuit illustrated how accessible truck driving is starting to become — it was the lessons learned in the rest of the fleet that will have the greatest impact on the motoring populace.
This hit me as the E63 AMG, that my group shared, hurtled towards a large dummy balanced behind the Hampton Downs pit lane at 60km/h, with no signs of stopping.
As the dummy grew larger in the windscreen, instinct kicked in and my heart started racing. We're definitely not slowing; in fact, I think the driver's speeding up even more.
But then, slam. The brakes locked on, the car lurched forwards and, after a few moments of drama, we came to a stop — just centimetres separating the nose of the car and the untouched, safe, dummy. Not a single touch of brake pressure having been applied by the driver.
Technology like this is typical across the Mercedes-Benz range, as well as many other new cars being sold today. Soon, they'll all have it, and the chances of a small fender-bender ruining your day will be that little bit less likely.
An endless list of built-in technology will also protect you in the event of unpreventable incident. Side bolsters in the front seats shift to offer more protection in a side-impact crash. Rear-facing sensors detect if someone's about to crash into you from behind and will apply brake pressure to ensure the collision won't see you get pushed into traffic.
And in each scenario, the car will trigger its Pre-Safe Sound feature to protect the sound of the crash damaging your eardrums.
It all sounds alien — far away. But rest assured that, soon enough, it will be the norm.