OPINION

At last: bash-proof and pinch-proof car doors

Long neglected in the technology race, vehicle portals are about to get a lot smarter

31 January 2019 - 09:08 By Denis Droppa
Smart doors will have sensors that prevent them from from being bashed when opened. Picture: SUPPLIED
Smart doors will have sensors that prevent them from from being bashed when opened. Picture: SUPPLIED

Raise your hand if you’ve ever dinged your car door against another car (or a pole or a wall) when opening it. It’s a scenario that plays itself out probably millions of times a day around the world in tight parking spaces, leaving vehicles with unsightly dents and scratches. 

Sometimes the motor industry gets so involved with sexy new technology like autonomous-driving features and ever-fancier infotainment systems, that some of the essential practicalities of life with a car - like opening and closing doors - are largely forgotten. There was initially little technological trailblazing in this area since the invention of the horseless carriage over 120 years ago, and for a long time the role of a car’s portals – much like the humble barn door – was to simply open and close.

Until recently, that is, when minivans started offering power-operated sliding doors, and high-end luxury cars brought us doors that “suck” closed instead of having to be slammed and doors that stop exactly at the point you open them – instead of snapping to the next notch and possibly bashing against something.

Now Continental – which is a technology company and not just into tyres – has gone a step further with bash-proof and pinch-proof smart doors, a concept it introduced at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The intelligent door brake system and the smart autonomous door are two features that make for convenient opening and closing, while also stopping vehicle doors from uncontrolled slamming.

By using electric motors and obstacle-detecting sensors the smart doors are able to open automatically, and stop before they ding into something.

They also have antipinch protection and won’t shut if they detect fingers, a wayward pet, or any other obstacles in the way. A continuously variable gap angle allows the doors to open in any position without snapping into place.

You’ll also appreciate these motor-assisted smart doors if you’ve ever felt how heavy a car door is to open or close when stopped on a slope. It makes life easier for particularly children and the elderly, and the same system also prevents doors from violently slamming or swinging open on a slope.

Clever stuff, and it means trapped fingers and battered doors will be a thing of the past. Continental says autonomous smart doors will also be a necessary feature for a future of driverless cars, which must be able to open and close their doors without human input.

It isn’t known when these smart doors will be available in the cars we can buy, but I hope it’s soon.

Speaking of long-neglected strides in vehicle development, the next car invention I’d like to see is transparent roof pillars. A-pillars can block a significant part of your view particularly when turning corners, while B-pillars can hinder your blind-spot check when looking over your shoulder – and these roof struts have become thicker to pass mandatory rollover crash tests.

I dream of a world where cars are able to offer drivers an uninterrupted panoramic view, making driving safer and more fun.

We can’t mess with a car’s structural interity, so unless a new super material is found that can make roof pillars much thinner but just as strong, the solution has to lie in making them invisible using smoke and mirrors.

Jaguar Land Rover is experimenting with a high-tech version, using cameras to project the view blocked by portions of the car - including the pillars and the bonnet -  into the driver’s field of vision. Like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, it would make the pillars and the bonnet appear see-through.

Toyota is working on a cheaper “cloaking” system that, instead of cameras, uses carefully placed mirrors to bend light around an object and make roof pillars appear transparent.

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