Here’s a fun rundown of space technology that influences modern cars
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship BCG. It’s ongoing mission: to explore strange new cars, to seek out new tech and new innovations. To boldly go where no BrownCarGuy has gone before. Sorry… can’t help myself.
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Right then, let’s get ready to leave space dock –engage forward thrusters.
As you probably guessed I love sci-fi and space exploration – but as a kid I thought there would be holiday resorts on Mars by now, and I figured one day I’d get to road test the moon buggy… on the moon!
In the 1960s the computers needed to get man to the Moon were the size of a car and cost several million dollars – today your smart phone has masses more computer power than those things. So you can appreciate why I’m so disappointed by the state of space exploration.
Nonetheless we humans have sent a lot of stuff out there, and we’ve learned a lot. Some of that knowledge has made it into our personalised road shuttles!
Cars. I mean cars.
Select Car Leasing put out a release recently about NASA technology in our cars – and they came up with bits of tech that has either already made it into our cars, or soon will!
Let’s go through some of them!
1. Artificial intelligence
There’s a lot of talk of autonomous vehicles these days – personally I’m not convinced. I’ve tried some of the semi-autonomous systems and I just don’t think they’re smart enough to cope with the real world.
In fact I don’t think we’ll have fully autonomous cars, till we have smart, self-learning AI – artificial intelligence.
Well as it happens NASA developed AI specifically for a vehicle to navigate Mar’s rough terrain. You see it takes about 25 minutes to communicate between Earth and Mars, so a remote control rover wouldn’t work.
Instead it’s equipped with a computer brain that can identify, locate and track objects to help it drive around. To enable this Boston-based company Neurala uses a neural network software – wait, where have I heard that before?
I tell you what, if they’re going to put positronic brains in cars, then I want them to talk too – in fact if we have to have autonomous cars, can they please be like KITT from Knight Rider?
2. Doppler Lidar
So your car maybe able to think, learn and talk – but how will it see, especially if it doesn’t have one of those red light things going back and forth in the front, like KITT did?
Ever heard of Lidar? It’s like Radar, but instead of using Radio Detection and Ranging – which is what Radar stands for – it uses light, hence Lidar.
It can detect objects, their shape and how far they are. But Doppler Lidar can even figure out where, how and how fast something is moving. It was designed to land spacecraft on the moon or Mars with perfect precision.
For motorists it means cars able to navigate through traffic or past other cars without hitting anything else that’s moving.
And that’s generally a good thing.
3. Tyres that don’t burst
Remember in the Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies when Pierce Brosnan’s 007 is being chased through Brent Cross shopping centre car park (yeah, that’s actually where it was filmed), driving his BMW 7 Series via his phone from the back seat – which actually doesn’t seem so farfetched anymore does it?
At one point his tyres are punctured, but that doesn’t stop him. He simply hits a button and they reinflate.
Well he wouldn’t even have needed that if he’d had the Superelastic Tyre developed by NASA again, for its Mars Rovers. Basically the tyres use shape memory alloys capable of flexing and returning to their original shape no matter what they’re driven over.
With something like this radial stiffener inside the rubber, your tyre wouldn’t even need air in it – it would be lighter and couldn’t be punctured.
4. Tyre pressure monitors
But while we do still have conventional tyres on our cars, something that most modern cars seem to have now as standard, are tyre pressure monitors.
You can thank the Space Shuttle for that. They needed some way to ensure the landing gear would be okay once they came back to Earth. So a sensor was created to sit inside the tyre and relay the pressure back to computers.
This was adapted for cars, so no more messing with those tyre pressure gauges.
5. Nano-flakes repair engines from the inside
Yeah that tyre pressure thing is great, but a little boring you’re thinking, when it comes to space tech right?
Well, how about nano-flakes that repair engine damage, from the inside? Is that cool enough for you?
Okay we’re not quite talking nanobots – so no microscropic robots deployed inside the engine like tiny mechanics.
However nano flakes can be poured into an engine – they have a sticky side and smooth side. The sticky side attaches to the damaged interior surface to form a diamond-like carbon that patches things up.
Ironically although it was again created for the Space Shuttle, this nano flake technology has not yet been used in space, but you CAN get it for your car!
6. Comfy Car Seats
Do you have a 2013 Nissan Altima? If so, do you recall thinking – wow these seats are really comfortable?
Well if by any chance you did, you’ve again got NASA to thank for it.
The ‘Zero Gravity Seats’ – as Nissan calls them – fitted to the car have 14 pressure points designed to support the driver’s spine, and the shape of the seat is meant to provide support from the hips right up to the shoulders.
It was based on NASA studying the postures of astronauts on SkyLab. Apparently in zero gravity, our bodies assume positions that reduce stress on our joints – and that’s the research that went into the seat design.
7. Satellite navigation
And finally of course there’s satellite navigation – which by its very name confirms that we would still be flipping the pages of A to Zs and wrestling with massive fold-out road maps to find our way around if not for navigations systems in our cars that are aided by satellites in space!
Plus GPS – the global positioning system – may have originated with Air Forces, but it was helped by research from NASA.
You see raw GPS data can be way off, 30 feet or so. But NASA came up with the software that corrects this to give us more precise locations – so we don’t end up in someone’s back garden rather than parking on their drive.
So that was 7 pieces of space tech in your cars – hope you enjoyed that. (Based on https://www.selectcarleasing.co.uk/news/article/nasa-tech-in-our-cars )
Mention other space tech that I’ve left out in the comments section – and tell me what’s your favourite innovation in cars.
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