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Ford and Toyota want to grab your wheel

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A monthly roundup of the latest car technology news.

Ford convenes a steering committee
The automaker is testing  a new vehicle safety system that dials in evasive action – whether by decelerating or maneuvering the test car – around a stationary vehicle or pedestrian.

The Obstacle Avoidance System uses three radars, ultrasonic sensors and a camera to scan 650ft in front of the vehicle for stopped or slowing traffic, pedestrians or other potential hazards. If the driver does not respond to audible and visual warnings, the system takes over the braking, scans the road until an opening is sensed and steers the car in that direction. The system is still undergoing testing, and is part of a European research project in collaboration with other automotive manufacturers and suppliers.

Apps and vehicle-sharing reduce driving in the US

A study released this month by the US PIRG Education Fund, a consumer-protection non-profit, and Frontier Group, a California-based think tank, indicates that the use of vehicle-sharing apps and services has reduced how much US motorists drive. The study said most of the reduction was traceable to Americans aged 16 to 34, a cohort that drove 23% less in 2009 than it did in 2001.

Real-time public transportation information delivered to smartphones has helped cities like Chicago, Boston, New York and Seattle increase public transportation usage. The study said that commercial and peer-to-peer (P2P) vehicle sharing has also contributed to a decrease in driving. Last year, 800,000 Americans subscribed to car-sharing services according to the study’s authors, resulting in a 27% to 56% decrease in driving for those individuals.

Toyota shifts tech towards near-driverless cars

The world’s largest automaker by sales volume continues to refine its driver assist systems, announcing that it was combining adaptive cruise technology and lane-departure warning systems to create a new feature, Automated Highway Driving Assist.

The system uses vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication to gather acceleration and deceleration data from neighbouring vehicles, and adjusts  the test car’s speed accordingly. In a press statement, Toyota said the system paired with its a lane control system that "adjusts the vehicle’s steering angle, driving torque and braking force when necessary to maintain the optimal line within the lane." Toyota is also developing a pedestrian safety system that would use audio and visual indicators to warn drivers of a pedestrian in the road, and would brake and eventually steer the vehicle to avoid a collision – not unlike Ford's Obstacle Avoidance System. Toyota expects the pedestrian system to make its production-car debut in 2015.

US states commit to adding 3m ZEVs and PZEVs by 2025

Governors from eight states have agreed to bring 3.3m battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles to their states over the next 12 years.

The vehicles might include passenger cars, trucks and transit buses, with the goal of increasing consumer awareness and demand for vehicles that produce low – or no – tailpipe emissions.

The governors of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont have agreed to loosen building codes for constructing electric car charging stations, put zero-emissions vehicles in public fleets, and possibly pursue favourable electricity rates for home charging, among other initiatives.

At Volvo, storing energy in car panels

Volvo has created and tested body panels that store energy captured during braking and conventional charging, with an eye towards finding applications in electric vehicles. The panels are comprised of carbon fibre, nano-structured batteries and super capacitors, which in combination provide a lightweight energy-storage alternative to conventional battery packs.

Volvo has been working on the European Union-supported project for more than three years, and created the panels initially for a Volvo S80 test vehicle. The panels supply the car’s electric motor, and are energised by brake regeneration or by plugging the car directly into an electrical outlet. Aside from being lightweight and moldable, the panels charge and store electricity faster than standard vehicle batteries, Volvo claims. A trunk-lid panel containing such technology could eventually replace conventional battery packs, the Swedish automaker added.