January 9, 1996
Web posted at: 2:05 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Ed Garsten
DETROIT, Michigan (CNN) -- Automakers and related businesses have found an eager market for what is known as the "protection" segment of the industry -- providing protection for both the people in the cars and the cars themselves. Inventions that keep motorists safe and keep cars out of the hands of thieves come onto the market regularly.
For passenger safety, the latest innovation is the side airbag, designed to reduce the high number of deaths each year from side-impact crashes. While side airbags have been available in Europe for at least two years, U.S. automakers won't offer them until 1998.
Ford expects to be the first. It's testing an airbag system that helps protect the head and chest of both the driver and front seat passenger. The airbag is mounted in the seat back; to be effective it must be used in conjunction with current front-mounted airbags, seat belts and shoulder harnesses. ( 587K QuickTime movie)
Automakers are constantly gathering information from a variety of sources to find out what other safety devices could help cut injury and death. Knowing what happens during a crash helps automakers build vehicles that can better survive one, so every time a high-performance Indy-style car cracks up at a race, it also is providing valuable information through a little black box furnished by General Motors.
"We measure what happens to the car and analyze the information in a computer," said G.M.'s John Melvin. "We can interpret that information and adjust it to our driving population. It gives us new information that we couldn't get any other way as to what a person could withstand in a crash."
When it comes to devices to keep cars from being stolen, automakers are not the only ones involved.
Carjackers who tangle with the Rev. Eugene Tompkins don't have a prayer. He's invented the Invisible Watchman, a theft-protection product that attaches to the car out of sight. A call to a pager number activates the Invisible Watchman, immobilizing the vehicle and sending out a piercing alarm. ( 179K AIFF sound or 179K WAV sound)
For drivers who like their anti-theft protection a little less high-tech, there's the "Claw". The $20 device sits on the treads of a tire. If the vehicle is moved, the "Claw" causes a single puncture that will deflate the tire in about 40 seconds. It means dealing with a flat tire, but it also means not having to deal with a stolen vehicle.
Thieves also have been known to bag auto airbags, so Winner International has come up with the "airbag shield." The device slips over the steering wheel where the driver's side airbag is located and is fastened into place with a steering wheel locking device.
The protection business also covers another kind of misfortune that can strike drivers -- being stranded when your car conks out in the middle of nowhere. Mobile phones can help, but what if you're out of the reach of mobile phone connection, or maybe certain exactly where you are? A Michigan company says it has just the thing. Called Autolink, it uses a combination of satellite global positioning technology and a two-way pager to help someone find you, wherever you are. It sells for about $500 and should be available in about two years.
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