Since the onset of commercial automobile production for people at the beginning of the 20th Century, the technological leaps and bounds made by the motor industry have been phenomenal. Whether driven by safety, practicality or by pure aesthetic, these are some of the most significant advancements in car technology over the years:

1. The Airbag

The airbag was invented in 1951 in the US by John W Hetrick, a former naval engineer. The key component – a ball-in-tube sensor for crash detection - was then invented by Allen K Breed, and the innovation was marketed to Chrysler in 1967. An experimental fleet of cars with airbags was built by Ford in 1971, and were made available to the general public in November 1973 by General Motors. Despite early problems, the airbag was re-introduced in the 1980s, and has since branched out into new ideas such as the side airbag first offered by the Volvo 850.

2. The Safety Belt

Safety belts were invented in the 1800’s by George Cayley, a prolific engineer and pioneer of aeronautical engineering. The belts were introduced first to aircraft by Adolphe Pegoud in 1913 – the first pilot to fly upside down. After the Saab GT 750 was introduced at the New York motor show in the spring of 1958 with safety belts fitted as standard, the practice became commonplace.

3. Immobiliser

Immobilisers have been mandatory in all new cars sold in the UK since 1997. Early models worked by preventing ignition unless a static code in the ignition key was recognised by a radio-frequency identification (RFID) checked to match the vehicle’s engine control unit (ECU). Later models attempted to prevent the opportunity to copy this code by using rolling codes or advanced cryptography. In highly advanced systems, an incorrect code match can even make sue of satellite or mobile phone communication to alert a security firm.

4. Navigation systems/GPS

Typically using a GPS (Global Positioning Service), the automotive navigation system acquires data to locate the user on the unit’s map database. There are a number of claimants as to who first created the system; Alpine claims to have invented the first automotive navigation system in 1981, while Honda claims the first navigation system in 1983, available in the 1990 Acura Legend. The first GPS-based auto navigation system has been claimed by Pioneer in 1990.

5. Anti-lock brakes

First developed in 1929 for aircraft, anti-lock braking systems had been in development by the German firms Bosch and Mercedes-Benz since the 1930s. The first completely electronic 4-wheel ABS system was installed in the Mercedes Benz S-Class in 1978, and was first made standard equipment by BMW in 1986. Since coming into widespread production, the system has made considerable progress, and in some models can now incorporate traction control, brake assist and electronic stability control.


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