There's a technology revolution in the auto business, and it involves more than streaming radio apps and voice-activated Facebook updates.
Consumers who haven't shopped for a new car for five or more years -- and that's a lot of people, since the average U.S. vehicle has been on the road for just over a decade -- may encounter some exotic new advances.
To attract safety-conscious drivers, some car makers are revisiting the question, 'Is there anywhere else we can stash an air bag?' Night-vision systems not unlike what the military uses to spot enemies in the dark are appearing at the upper reaches of the luxury market. And to meet tougher fuel-economy standards, car makers are installing transmissions with up to nine speeds.
Only a few customers might order such novel features. But what starts out as a costly, brand-burnishing option in a luxury sedan often migrates into wider use as technology prices invariably drop. Here's a sample of new technology hitting showrooms this year.
Click an Inflatable Seat Belt
Auto makers and safety-technology suppliers such as Sweden's Autoliv have developed shoulder straps with air bags built in. In the U.S., Ford Motor Co. was the first to offer this bag-in-belt technology on 2011 Explorers. Now, Mercedes-Benz will offer it on its new S-Class sedans.
汽车制造商以及瑞典奥托立夫公司(Autoliv)等安全技术供应商已研究出集成安全气囊的安全肩带。在美国，福特汽车公司(Ford Motor Co.)首开先河，在2011款Explorer汽车上安装了气囊安全带。现在，梅赛德斯-奔驰公司(Mercedes-Benz)也在其新款S级轿车上 提供这一配置。
Although traditional lap and shoulder belts prevent thousands of deaths a year, they can also cause what researchers call 'seat-belt syndrome.' The belts can lead to severe injuries to organs, muscles and spines, especially in violent crashes. Inflatable seat belts are meant to reduce this risk. Traditional air-bag systems mounted in the car's steering wheel and elsewhere use a hot gas to rapidly inflate the bag during a crash. To prevent burns, bag-in-belt systems use a cold gas to inflate its protective bladder.
虽然传统的腰带式和肩带式安全带每年都能防止数千起死亡事故，但也会引起研究人员所谓的“安全带并发症”(seat-belt syndrome)。安全带可能导致人体组织、肌肉和脊椎的严重损伤，尤其是在猛烈的撞车事故中。气囊安全带的应用正是为了降低这一风险。传统的气囊系统 一般安装在汽车的方向盘等地方，在撞车时点燃固态燃料并产生气体，使气囊迅速膨胀。为防止乘客被炙热气体灼伤，气囊安全带使用冷气体来给气囊充气。
Ford says it currently offers bag-in-belt systems on four models -- the Explorer, the Flex wagon and the Lincoln MKT. About 25% of people who buy those vehicles order the bag-in-belt option, Ford says. Mercedes says it will likely move the technology into other models, but isn't outlining specific plans.
Spot Pedestrians in the Dark
Safety regulators around the world are increasingly focused on motor-vehicle accidents involving pedestrians, and that's spurring development of new systems to help drivers see people on foot before it's too late.
More than 4,000 pedestrians a year die in the U.S. after being hit by a car. Nearly 70,000 were injured in motor-vehicle accidents in 2011, according to government data. Many of these incidents happen at night.
This year, German luxury brand BMW AG is launching a 'dynamic-spotlight' technology that uses an infrared camera mounted behind the grille to see down the road ahead. Software can pick out the outline of a person (or animal) and signal the car's headlights to illuminate them -- and help prevent a collision. The system also shows an in-cabin alert, projecting an icon representing a person enclosed in a yellow triangle onto either a dashboard screen or the windshield.
2013年，德国豪华车品牌宝马公司(BMW AG)推出“dynamic-spotlight”夜视系统，通过安装在汽车前格栅后面的红外线摄像头来观察前方路面情况，相关软件能够识别行人（或动 物）的外形轮廓，启动汽车前大灯照亮前方，协助避免碰撞事故的发生。该系统也有驾驶舱提示功能，发现行人时系统会在仪表盘屏幕上显示或在挡风玻璃上投射一 个黄色三角形内置人形的图标。Design Your Own Dashboard
Dashboards used to be static displays with mechanical dials and gauges. Now, auto makers are ditching the dials in favor of programmable screens that can display more information and allow drivers to personalize the look of the cockpit displays.
The new Lexus IS F-Sport model, due out this June, uses a thin-film transistor display and a moving tachometer dial (which measures RPMs) to create a hybrid of the traditional and the new. The technology is adapted from Lexus's super sports car, the LFA. By toggling a control on the steering wheel, the driver can get the big dial in the center of the dashboard to move to the right, revealing a flat-screen display that can be customized for two different drivers. 'We can change languages, miles per hour to kilometers' and show information such as route guidance, says Bill Camp of Lexus's training operation, Lexus University.
新款雷克萨斯(Lexus) IS F-Sport车型计划于2013年6月推出，其仪表盘采用雷克萨斯超级跑车LFA上的技术，通过薄膜晶体管屏幕和一个发动机转速表，打造出传统与创新相 结合的显示方式。驾驶者可以拨动方向盘上的控制键，将仪表盘中央的大表盘移到右边，腾出空间来为两类不同的驾驶者定制表盘。雷克萨斯公司内训部门“雷克萨 斯大学”(Lexus University)的比尔??坎普(Bill Camp)说：“我们可以改变仪表盘的显示语种，切换英里和公里计量方式”，并能显示路面导航等信息。
Shift Into Ninth Gear
Ever-tougher federal demands for fuel efficiency have led car makers to add more gears to transmissions. And more. And more.
You don't have to be very old to remember when most cars came with four-speed transmissions. Now, Chrysler Group LLC says it will introduce a nine-speed gearbox designed to fit into a relatively small, front-wheel-drive car.
即便不是年纪很大的人也能回忆起大多数汽车都采用四速变速箱的时代。现在，克莱斯勒集团(Chrysler Group LLC)称其将推出一款九速变速箱，用于尺寸相对较小的前轮驱动汽车。
ZF Friedrichshafen AG, the German company that makes the nine-speed transmission, says it can improve fuel economy by 10% to 16% compared with a six-speed automatic, mainly because it offers a wider spread of gears to keep the engine in the 'sweet spot,' where it's turning as slowly as possible to stay at a certain speed.
九速变速箱制造商德国采埃孚股份公司(ZF Friedrichshafen AG)表示，与六速自动变速箱相比，九速变速箱能提高燃油经济性10%到16%，主要是由于其齿轮组传递范围更广泛，能在特定的发动机转速下延缓切档，保持引擎处于“最有效点”。
Such a transmission's challenge lies largely in the software that controls the vehicle's shifting. Too much and drivers could feel as if the car is constantly changing gear and not running smoothly. Too little and the fuel-economy benefits don't materialize.
Michael Ebenhoch, director of ZF's front-drive transmission development, says that with nine speeds, 'we are getting closer to the maximum' for a passenger car. On the other hand, he says, 'the guy who developed the five speed said we don't need six.'
Drive by Computer
Traditionally, steering a car has involved a series of mechanical connections that allow the wheel in your hands to guide the four wheels on the road. Infiniti's new Q50 sedan -- which replaces the current G series in the Nissan Motor Corp. luxury brand's lineup -- boasts the industry's first so-called steer-by-wire system, which swaps out those mechanical elements with an all-electronic system.
以往，汽车转向涉及一系列机械传动，让驾驶者通过手中的方向盘指引汽车的四个轮子。英菲尼迪(Infiniti)新款Q50轿车旨在替代日产汽车公司 (Nissan Motor Corp.)高端的G系列车型，宣称其在行业内率先使用了所谓的线控转向系统(steer-by-wire system)，将转向过程中的机械环节全部替换为电子系统。
Proponents say an electronic signal can be faster than a mechanical linkage at translating what the driver does with the steering wheel to the road. The electronic system also allows drivers to choose among four different degrees of serenity or sportiness in the handling. If the electronics fail, Infiniti says a backup mechanical-linkage system will keep the car under control.
The steer-by-wire system is part of an array of technology on board the Q50, including advanced cruise control and radar-enabled braking, that allows the driver to take control when the road is fun and twisty, but also enables the car to handle a lot of driving work itself during a routine commute.