HardwareBehind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

Words & Illustration: Russ Atkinson

I still consider power-steering and electric windows to be modern conveniences, but then my car is 28 years old. Technology has come a very long way in the last three decades, making my humble classic look like a steam traction engine. Here’s a look at some of the truly mod. cons. lurking under the skin of your new car.


Most often utilising sensors mounted around the vehicle, often in the rear-view mirror, lane assist systems recognise road markings and determine whether or not you’re about to depart the road, rather than simply taking the current motorway exit. The systems’ response to imminent danger range from audible, visible or haptic feedback all the way up to taking control of the steering to set you back on the right course. The latter is probably safest if you’ve fallen asleep – I’m not sure about you, but I’m never impressed by being woken by my alarm clock, let alone being greeted from my slumber by impending doom and going into panic-mode.


What does that even mean, and why would you even need it? It’s a technology so extravagant you won’t be surprised to read that it’s used in Rolls Royce’s Wraith (the most powerful Rolls ever produced, no less). Using GPS technology, the Wraith’s eight, yes, eight-speed ZF gearbox pre-selects the next gear based on the upcoming terrain and the speed at which you’re approaching. In short, Wraith knows what gear you’ll need to be in before you do. Mind. Blown.


Pioneered by Volkswagen Audi Group, tested on their Audi R18 Ultra prototype race car and initially outlawed in the USA due to an archaic law, modern headlights don’t even need the driver to switch from high to low beam. It isn’t only the brightness that’s adjusted automatically, with sensors able to rotate the beams to better illuminate the road ahead when cornering. Coupled with advancements in LED technology, filament bulbs just can’t hold a candle to modern headlights.


All hail the possible eventual solution to EV range limitations! Using a scaled-up version of the same inductive-charging technology you might use to wirelessly charge your phone, you could be able to forget about having to plug in your plug-in-vehicle altogether, soon. It works by aligning a pair of magnetic coils – one vehicle-mounted, one beneath the vehicle – that can transfer energy through free-air. Imagine these charging coils being positioned underneath parking spaces to charge your car while you’re not using it, be that at home or in a car park, or better still just beneath the road’s surface so that you can top up your batteries on the way to your next destination. It’s like a modern twist on getting your home electricity ‘key’ charged at the post office.


If you’re into dashcam videos (and, well, why wouldn’t you be?) you’ve probably witnessed some of the incredible evasive manoeuvres undertaken by Teslas where the car has foreseen the hazard, usually an out of control vehicle or red light runner approaching from an absurd angle at ridiculous pace, before any human could’ve managed to. Using technologies such as RADAR, LIDAR (light detection and ranging, rather than RADAR’s use of radio signals) and stereo cameras, computers can often detect dangerous situations quicker than humans and step in, as is the case with autonomous emergency braking, but equally they’re capable of standing down when they’ve deemed the driver to be back in control of the vehicle.

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