It's a sign of the times...
Being an automotive engineer is no easy task. That might sound like an obvious statement, but when considering that under-engineering even a single piece of hardware can mean an expensive recall at best and lost lives at worst, the seriousness of the job starts to come into perspective. Take General Motors or Fiat Chrysler for example. Both automakers faced lawsuits related to seemingly innocuous parts that turned out to be improperly engineered, an ignition switch in the case of the former and a rotating shifter for the latter.
But no matter how good an engineering team is, things are inevitably going to go wrong sometimes. So the best an automaker can do is to prepare and constantly work on improving. It’s why Toyota, arguably one of the manufacturers with the best reputation for good engineering, is introducing two new safety features aimed at cleaning up the sometimes messy interaction between humans and machines.
The first feature is Automatic Engine Shut Off. As its name implies, the system is designed to shut off the engine after a pre-determined period of time if the vehicle is left running. That’s a more intervening method than Toyota’s current system, which is limited to issuing a two-step alert to notify the driver that the engine is still running and ask them to turn it off.
In the near future, Toyota hopes to make this system work with a smartphone app so that a driver can be alerted if they’ve left the car.
The next system is one that takes a little more responsibility into its hands and also has a name that clearly indicates what the system’s job is. Automatic Park is an attempt to reduce the risk of injuries from roll-away vehicles (which is how Fiat Chrysler’s shifter problem did its damage) by automatically putting the transmission in park and/or activating the parking brake if the driver exits the vehicle without first putting it in Park.
While the ladder feature is one many cars already have, the former is not as widespread. Both, however, seem to be engineered with one type of car in mind: the electrified car. Whether it’s a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or one of Toyota’s upcoming electric cars, these new features, set to debut on 2020 models, seem geared to help make noiseless powertrains with sometimes confusing new shifting methods safer for the masses.