Car Technology Innovations That Changed Driving

| | January 23, 2024

For over 100 years, we have used cars for various purposes so that today’s car manufacturers know ‌we can’t do without them.

Many events have led to technological advancements in the modern car throughout history. It has been a long way since the Ford Model-T and even longer since we used horse carriages. 

Today’s cars are packed with remarkable technologies, sensors, and gadgets. This article lists the important inventions that changed driving today and made it better.

1921 – Rearview Mirror

When Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 race in 1911, he did so using a rearview mirror. At that time, most drivers thought that mirrors on the front of the car would create drag and slow the vehicle down. Harroun’s mirror was placed on the back of the car so that he could see behind him.

In 1921, Elmer Berger invented the first rearview mirror, which quickly became standard equipment in all cars. Berger’s was a convex mirror attached to the driver’s side door. The mirror caused several issues: it was hard to adjust because it only moved up and down, restricted the driver’s view of the road, and didn’t offer much visibility at night.

READ MORE: Who Invented the Car? History of the Automobile and Motor Vehicles

Since then, rearview mirrors have experienced tremendous growth, and advancements in automated driving are poised to change them even more.

The first significant innovation of rear-view mirrors came in 1928 when they were mounted on the windshield. The car had to stop so that someone could mount the mirror, but this solved the visibility problems presented by installing mirrors on doors or fenders. 

In 1941, Buick introduced a method that allowed drivers to adjust their mirrors while driving. Soon after, Chevrolet assigned fixed mirrors to each A-pillar of vehicles and created a lever that allowed drivers to move the mirror without stopping their cars.

1932 – Auto Transmission

It’s hard to imagine driving a car without automatic transmission today. But this innovation wasn’t always standard for vehicles. The first auto transmission vehicles appeared in the 1930s, and it took decades for the technology to become mainstream. 

Auto transmission has changed driving in a few ways. The most significant change is that drivers no longer need to shift gears manually, making driving more manageable and less stressful. It also makes driving safer and more efficient because the car can maintain a constant speed without accelerating or decelerating on its own.

Before automatic transmissions, cars had to be manually shifted by the driver. But in 1932, Oldsmobile introduced the first mass-produced car with an automatic transmission, the Oldsmobile Automatic Safety Transmission.

Automatic transmissions are now standard in all cars and trucks sold in the United States, and it’s easy to see why: they make driving easier, more convenient, and more fun.

But not only did automatic transmissions change how we drive, but they also changed where we drive. Because early automatics were made for road-going luxury cars, their popularity took off after World War II. They were no longer just a novelty but a necessity of life on America’s new superhighways.

1948 – Cruise Control

Cruise control is one of the most valuable technologies in the automotive world. It enables the driver to maintain a constant speed without using the throttle.

Cruise control can reduce the fatigue experienced by drivers and improve fuel economy, especially on long journeys. It also has some safety benefits because it reduces the chance of speeding.

American engineer and inventor Ralph Teetor invented cruise control in 1948, which was the first “Speedostat” prototype. Even more remarkable is that Teetor had long lost his sight before he started his career and developed the Speedostat.

Since its introduction, cruise control has dramatically improved both in terms of reliability and performance. In addition to maintaining a constant speed, cruise control systems can even bring the car to a complete stop if necessary.

1950s – Turbocharger

Swiss engineer Alfred Büchi invented the turbocharger in 1905, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that it made its way into cars. The idea behind a turbocharger is simple: use the energy created by exhaust gasses to compress incoming air. More compressed air means more oxygen so that the engine can burn more fuel. In short, a turbocharger makes smaller engines perform like larger ones. Since then, turbochargers have been used on diesel trucks to high-performance sports cars.

The turbocharger has changed driving in several ways. For one, it makes cars more potent than they would otherwise be for a given weight. This allows smaller engines to be installed in cars and trucks without compromising power or performance. For example, a three-liter engine equipped with a turbocharger may have 300 horsepower (hp), whereas the engine without the turbocharger may only produce 200 hp.

1959 – The Safety Belt

According to the National Safety Council, an estimated 40,000 people die in car accidents every year in the United States. And while there have been numerous innovations in car safety over the years, one of the most important is also one of the simplest: the seatbelt. 

Among a host of important car safety tips, wearing a seatbelt is one of the most crucial as it can reduce the risk of motor accident injury or death by 90 percent. 

Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invented the three-point seatbelt and patented it in 1959. Before that, automakers used two-point lap belts in some cars, but they weren’t very effective and were challenging to use.

The design was simple and effective: two straps with a buckle that formed a “Y” shape to hold both the driver and passenger in place. It helped distribute crash forces across the strongest parts of your body—your pelvis and chest—rather than allowing them to be concentrated on just one area.

Volvo gave up patent rights to its invention so that other automakers could use it freely. It became mandatory equipment on all new cars sold in the United States. by 1968. Now, almost no vehicles are sold without them, even though they remain optional equipment in some states.

1990 – Automatic Braking System

William L. Kelley developed the first modern collision avoidance system in 1990. A team of scientists and engineers at Hughes Research Laboratories (HRL) in Malibu, California, demonstrated the second modern forward collision avoidance system in 1995. 

The automatic braking system is a newer vehicle feature that helps drivers avoid accidents by automatically applying the brakes when an imminent collision is detected. Automated braking systems use sensors to detect objects (either stationary or moving) in front of the vehicle. When the car gets too close to a detected object, the system will alert the driver about a potential collision. If the driver doesn’t respond, the system will apply the brakes on its own to avoid or reduce damage from an accident.

Automatic braking systems may also include sensors that monitor other car parts for problems, such as low tire pressure or low fluid levels. Some systems can even call for help after an accident occurs and send information to emergency responders about where you are, what happened and how severe your injuries are.

2000 – Lane Departure Warning Systems

It’s easy to get distracted behind the wheel, especially if you’re driving on a lonely stretch of highway for hours at a time. Lane departure warning systems (LDWS) make sure you never drift out of your lane again by triggering an alarm if you cross into another lane without signaling first.

These systems use cameras or sensors to monitor lane lines, keeping track of where your vehicle is on the road. If you start to drift out of your lane without a turn signal, these systems will alert you with an alarm, usually a loud beep or vibration in the steering wheel. Some systems will automatically steer or brake for you if you don’t respond.

Lane departure warning systems are not the same as lane departure prevention systems. The latter uses active steering to prevent drivers from drifting, but this can be intrusive for drivers who know what they’re doing, so some car manufacturers offer lane departure warnings only.

Lane departure warning systems were first introduced in Europe in 2000. It was used in Mercedes Actros commercial trucks and was developed by US company Iteris. In 2002, it became available in the United States and Canada on Freightliner Trucks. Now, the LDWS is widely used in SUVs, sedans, trucks, and other motor vehicles.

2001 – GPS

The Global Positioning System, or GPS, is one of the many innovations that genuinely changed people’s lives for good. It is used in navigation and mapping, military operations, tracking systems, and even scientific applications. You can use it on your smartphone through Google Maps or Waze apps, so you won’t get lost when driving around.

Private companies began offering GPS navigation for vehicles in 2001 due to growing technology and shrinking receiver sizes, which led to the introduction of personal navigation devices inside civilian vehicles such as Garvin and TomTom.

2003 – Blind-Spot Monitoring

Blind-spot monitoring uses a sensor to track vehicles in your blind spot area.

This can be useful if you forget to check your blind spots or drive in heavy traffic and miss something. It can also help prevent accidents if children or pets suddenly run out into the street.

Originally introduced on 2003 Volvo XC90 SUVs, this system would alert a driver when a car entered a blind spot as a driver was switching lanes. This was done via cameras and radar sensors mounted on the door mirror housings. The Volvo introduced this feature and won an AutoCar Safety and Technology award.

2010 – Autonomous Driving

Imagine a world where you could take your eyes off the road and just sit back as your car drives itself. That world may be coming sooner rather than later. Autonomous driving technology enables the vehicle to detect the environment and drive itself without human involvement. Several companies, including Tesla, Volvo, Google, BMW, and Nissan, are working on self-driving cars, promising to make driving safer and easier.

With the research vehicle Leonie, the Technische Universität Braunschweig’s Institute of Control Engineering demonstrated the first autonomous driving on public streets in Germany in 2010.

Takeaway

Car technology innovations have changed the lives of car drivers and let them travel much more easily in many respects. For example, GPS is a helpful car technology innovation because it allows drivers to navigate roads more efficiently and drive more safely. Collision avoidance technology is also another great innovation for safety. It can warn drivers when they are getting too close to another moving vehicle or an obstacle in their path.

How to Cite this Article

There are three different ways you can cite this article.

1. To cite this article in an academic-style article or paper, use:

Jeff, "Car Technology Innovations That Changed Driving", History Cooperative, April 18, 2022, https://historycooperative.org/car-technology-innovations-that-changed-driving/. Accessed May 21, 2024

2. To link to this article in the text of an online publication, please use this URL:

https://historycooperative.org/car-technology-innovations-that-changed-driving/

3. If your web page requires an HTML link, please insert this code:

<a href="https://historycooperative.org/car-technology-innovations-that-changed-driving/">Car Technology Innovations That Changed Driving</a>

Leave a Comment

Share
Tweet
Reddit
Pin
Email