Command your car with a touch - or let a computer set suspension

The level of technology going into new cars promises to increase dramatically in the next couple of years. Consider the Ford Mark VII Comtech and the Toyota Cressida.

The Mark VII Comtech has three separate advanced electronic systems; the Cressida has a revolutionary suspension system that is computer driven.

The Comtech is experimental, but the company says the features could be put into production in short order. The Comtech driver can touch 10 switches on a pair of banana-shaped pods, just below the steering wheel, without taking his hands off the wheel. Headlights, wipers, and radio are all at the driver's finger tips.

The signals to the lights and wipers are multiplexed - much as multiple conversations transmitted over a single telephone wire. The dashboard information on the Comtech is displayed with bright blue-green liquid crystals.

A cathode-ray tube, essentially a TV screen, displays driver information such as fuel economy and miles traveled. Changing the heat or air conditioning is done by touching the screen.

With the suspension system on the Toyota Cressida, the driver selects one of three levels of firmness: normal, sport, or hard. Tiny electric motor actuators are on the top of each shock absorber.

They snap more or less open in 49 milliseconds, or roughly one-twentieth of a second. This doesn't happen at random. Throttle position, speed, and even wheel rotation are sensed automatically.

A photo coupler measures how much the steering wheel turns. In a hard, aggressive turn, the system goes to the hard mode even if the normal suspension is operating. After 2.1 seconds of steady driving, it will revert automatically to the normal mode.

How much difference is there in the three driving modes? Toyota says that when a typical man puts his weight on the corner fender of the car in normal mode, it might dip 4 inches. In the short mode, however, it dips 3 inches; and in the hard mode, 1 inch.

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