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Road Science and Vehicle Technology

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Reports done in the 1960’s talked about the future of road science and vehicle technology. The future was bright and full of promise. New technology would bring safer, faster, and more comfortable travel to everyone. A review of our promised future, from the present, is an interesting and enlightening reflection on our past.

The advance of road science was once reported on by the famous journalist Mike Wallace. The report cited great advancements that would be on the horizon. These items would include such things as illuminated roadways, systems to dissipate fog, heated roads to melt ice and snow, and radar to view objects in the path of the vehicle. Other articles talked about flying cars and vehicles that would automatically take you to your destination. Of all of these “future” scientific advancements we see very little, if any, implementation of them over fifty years later. Some vehicles have limited ability to sense things in the road but that is about as far as we get on this list.

In the 1980’s there were advancements in technology aimed more at vehicles and less at the actual roadways. These advancements covered seat belts, airbags, traction control and the cool but not so popular heads up display (HUD). HUD is a system that displays information about the vehicle such as speed, direction, and even radio station, in the lower windshield on the driver’s side of the vehicle. This system allows a driver to stay focused on the road and still have access to information about the vehicle. For some reason the HUD technology never spread and is still only available in a very limited amount of vehicles.

In the 1990’s and beyond we continued to see safety and performance improvements in vehicles but very little in our roadways or infrastructure. In addition, there was a boom of technology advancements in the “comfort science” of vehicles. Such improvements include heated seats, cooled seats, doors that automatically open and close, rear view cameras, multi-disk CD players, TV and DVD systems, GPS and navigation systems, OnStar and satellite radio. The science of comfort has appeared to dwarf all other aspects of our vehicles and driving experience. Now there are Infotainment systems in vehicles that combine many of these features into one unit and even integrate your vehicle with the internet and your handheld electronics such as phones and tablet computers. The days of AM/FM radios, cold seats in the dead of winter 8 track players is long gone. The vision of roads with no fog or ice are blurred by the next innovation in comfort and style.

The dreams of future improvements in road science today are over shadowed by improvements in our vehicles. Will the next fifty years bring us any of the broken promises of the last fifty years? Only time will tell.

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