Vroom! Nine Cutting-Edge Car Technologies

Technology that keeps drivers awake, monitors teenage driving habits, and creates truly mobile offices. Here are nine automobile technologies that have us reaching for our wallet (or wishing we had more in it).

Fisker Karma: Where Eco Meets Sexy

The 2010 Karma boasts a top speed of 125 mph and goes 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. That and its $87,900 starting price tag has Fisker Automotive calling it the "world's first true premium plug-in hybrid sports sedan." The Karma features two operating modes: Stealth Mode and Sport Mode. In electric-only Stealth Mode, drivers can travel emission-free for up to 50 miles on a full electric charge. For distances of up to 300 miles, they can choose Sport Mode, which relies on a small gasoline engine to turn the generator that charges the lithium ion battery pack. Karmas are scheduled to ship late 2009.

Mini E: Giving Life to the Electric Car

About 500 folks in California, New York and New Jersey will be testing out the new Mini E electric car. The Mini Es will be leased to private citizens and more visible customers like the city of New York. The BMW Group (parent of the Mini subsidiary) is using these leases to study how the cars perform on a day-to-day basis in real traffic conditions and will factor these findings into mass production. The Mini E doesn't have the oomph of the Karma—it goes from 0 to 62 in 8.5 seconds and is limited to 95 mph—but when its lithium-ion battery is fully charged, it can run for more than 150 miles.

Volvo City Safety: Minimizing Rear-End Collisions

Ever feel like your attention wanders in heavy city traffic? Volvo City Safety is aiming to make up for that. It's a new system designed to prevent or minimize rear-end collisions in stop-and-go situations. Active at speeds up to 18 mph and standard in the Volvo XC60, City Safety uses an optical laser to continuously monitor traffic, and will recognize sudden braking by the vehicle in front of you. If you don't react and are about to drive into the car in front of you, the system will automatically trigger an emergency stop. Volvo is also working on systems to protect pedestrians.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class: Jolting You Awake

Drowsy drivers are one of the main causes of crashes. Mercedes-Benz has targeted the problem with its Attention Assist drowsy-driver detection system, which comes standard on the 2010 E-class Sedan. The system continuously monitors more than 70 driver parameters, especially the driver's steering behavior, to detect fatigue. When fatigue-like behavior is recognized by the steering angle sensor, Attention Assist sounds a loud beep and displays a coffee cup in the dashboard. We're thinking that if you're falling asleep at the wheel you should stop for a real cup of joe, or hey, here's a thought—some sleep.

CarChip: Your Car, the Spy

Want to keep tabs on your teenage kids' driving habits? CarChip gives you an easy way to do just that. CarChip monitors 300 hours worth of mileage, speeding, braking, acceleration, and data on what happened the last 20 seconds before a crash. The CarChip costs $119 and can be used with any post-1995 car. Parents can remove the CarChip, and download data. CarChip also manufactures models specifically meant for business owners with one or more company cars.

Flir Systems: Night Vision for Safety

Flir Systems PathFindIR thermal imaging camera is designed to let drivers see clearly in total darkness. It sees heat, not light, and uses the same technology Flir offers to military agencies to see at night. It features a 36° field-of-view lens, which the company says allows you to see clearly in darkness, even at long range. It is designed to give you more time to react to potential hazards such as animals or pedestrians before they can pose a danger.

Ford Sync 3.0: Cause for Excitement

The first version of Sync provided voice-controlled music and made phone calls. Then Sync monitored vehicles' health and connected drivers to a 911 operator. The coming version (on some 2010 vehicles beginning spring 2009) adds traffic, directions and information. It provides drivers with personalized traffic reports with text-message traffic alerts; turn-by-turn driving directions; and voice-activated business search, news, sports and weather.

AT&T CruiseCast: Bringing Your Living Room to the Car

AT&T's CruiseCast brings you 22 satellite TV channels and 20 satellite radio channels via an atenna that mounts atop your vehicle. The system is supposed to maintain reception even underneath overpasses and trees by automatically storing a few minutes of video. The cost of keeping your little ones and passengers occupied doesn't come cheap though: Antenna and receiver cost around $1,299. Monthly subscription should be around $28.

Ford Work Solutions: Mobile Office in a Truck

Ford Work Solutions are taking the office to construction foremen and other workers everywhere. Designed to create a fully functioning mobile office, Ford offers an in-dash computer with high-speed Internet access, remote computer access, GPS, and a Bluetooth wireless printer. Users can open spreadsheet documents, generate invoices, and other business tasks. The system also features other options such as Tool Link, a RFID system to track tools needed for the job.

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