by Jim Kerr

Sometimes cars are built that will never see the road. These units are a rolling test bed for concepts and technology that may or may not be incorporated into our future vehicles. One such vehicle is Ford’s Taurus Telematics and Safety Concept Car, internally known at Ford as the Taurus T2S.

The Taurus T2S is loaded with high tech gear. Radar and vision systems allow the vehicle to “see” and warn the driver of potential threats. Four radar units are used – forward, rear, and blind spot units enable the car to react quickly. For example, blind spot detection warns drivers of other vehicles during lane change manoeuvres. Front radar systems can disable cruise and warn drivers to brake. Rear radar can be used as a collision warning system to sense impending accidents. The system activates the vehicle’s seatbelt pretensioning system to position the driver properly for minimal injury and alerts oncoming vehicles by flashing a rear-mounted strobe light.

Cameras are also used extensively. Traffic view side-mounted cameras eliminate blind spots that hide merging vehicles. Rear mounted cameras work as a back up aid, while a forward facing camera can be integrated into a lane departure system that alerts dozing drivers to changing road conditions, reducing lane wandering and “hitting the ditch”.

There’s more. An internal child camera presents an image of rear facing children in the back seat. The image is displayed on the instrument panel for only a 10 second period when activated, to reduce driver distraction. Finally, a “NightEye” vision system uses a low-light camera to warn drivers of possible threats not seen with the naked eye. The Ford NightEye system uses colour imaging to present a real world, easily understandable image of the road ahead.

There is much more to Telematics than just vision systems. A Bluetooth gateway enables owners to easily upload and download personal, trip, and business information between computer devices and the car, while a hands-free phone permits driver’s to communicate externally in a safer fashion. “SafetyNet” provides data used to engage safety belt and warning systems during a crash. This system uses vehicle to vehicle communication so each vehicle knows the location, direction, and speed of other vehicles on the road. “SmartNAV” uses vehicle to vehicle communication as well as vehicle to road communication to provide real time traffic routing, reducing delays due to accidents and traffic congestion ahead. Roadway temperature sensors warn the driver of impending icy or slippery conditions.

Telematics also enables vehicles to be customized to the driver’s wants and needs. Reconfigurable instrument cluster and centre console stack allows the look and purpose of gauges and switches to change. A snap-on/snap-off faceplate permits owners to “customise” their vehicle, while electronic programming changes function. Voice activation can be used to change control functions while driving. For example, the same button can be used to increase interior temperature settings or increase radio volume. You just have to tell it what you want.

Electronics have changed the way we drive. Fuel injection, dashboard information displays, automatic climate controls, airbag safety systems, and many more common features on today’s vehicles are only possible because of the advances in electronics. The Ford Taurus T2S concept car is just that – a concept. The technology is available today, but are drivers and roadways ready for it? Is the cost justifiable or marketable? Generally, I would have to say No, not yet, to these questions, but things change very fast.

The Taurus T2s is a car loaded with all the goods. It shows us what is possible. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find portions of some systems on vehicle models in the very near future. After all, who could have predicted just a few years ago that DVD entertainment systems and satellite navigation would be available on today’s vehicles?

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