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Automotive innovations promise safety and convenience

Baby-boomer mythology had a generation believing we’d already be at least 10 years into commuting to work in personal rocket packs, jettisoning from home to office to shopping center to wherever.

So much for yesterday’s predictions. But excitement exists today on the automotive horizon for some great gadgets that are just around the corner or here right now.

Here’s a rundown of our favorites here at your Libertyville-area car-care experts, Auto Lab.

Under-chassis airbags. Airbags traditionally have been a defensive measure: Car is struck, airbags deploy. Moving airbag tech into active mode, Mercedes-Benz is researching under-chassis airbags to help halt a vehicle before a crash. Sensors would detect an inevitable impact and friction-coated bags would aid in slowing the vehicle (as much as doubling its stopping power). This gadget is probably several years away from…er…hitting the streets, Mercedes leaders say.

Laser lights. Talk about futuristic, right? Lasers? This one is a reality already. Half-mile-ahead-revealing high beams arrived via the BMW i8 and Audi R8 LMX in 2014. If that seems excessive, don’t worry. Those lamps are illegal in the United States. But… The laser’s highly accurate width-calculating beams make it ideal for low-beam, space-calculating tasks, such as navigating pesky narrowed lanes in construction zones.

LCD gauges. How would you like square or triangle fuel gauges instead of arcs or circles? That might be pushing things a bit far, but LCD instrumentation prototypes are capable of being cut into any shape. This tech offers car designers lots more elbow room to fashion eye-catching interiors. Revealed by manufacturer Sharp at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, they’re predicted to be available by 2017.

Self-parking cars. DIY auto enthusiasts no doubt would regard this tech as heresy. Those challenged since high-school driver’s ed. to pull off perfect parallel parking likely will greet it as a godsend. Several carmakers already offer an on-board computer that literally takes over the steering wheel while the driver governs the gas pedal. Take this tech a few steps further soon in the form of self-driving automobiles.

No-tippy sippy. We’ve all been frustrated by spilled beverages while driving. Hot coffee hurts. Ice cubes startle. Either way, safety is compromised. At the very least, cleaning remnants of sugar-based beverages from upholstery is no picnic. Enter the 100-percent spill-proof cup holder. Works for any car that already contains a conventional cup holder. A bit of back story: Inventor Maksim Ghyvoronsky designed his original Maksimatic cup holder as solely a factory-installed standard feature, but high demand forced an aftermarket version. Max props to Maksim.

What inventions excite you? What innovations do you think are overdue? Leave us, the Auto Lab experts, a reply below.

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