Skip to main content

Notebook Technology

Auto report cards


Rex Features via AP Images


Auto report cards

Chevy car allows parents to monitor their teenagers’ driving behavior

“Dad, can I borrow the car?”

Parents of teens know how much anxiety a question like that can generate. Though you can’t always be in the car with your teens when they’re behind the wheel, GM has developed new technology allowing parents to monitor their children’s driving habits and even restrict certain automotive features.

The new system, called Teen Driver, will debut in the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and places limits on certain features and provides immediate feedback to the driver. For example, it will mute the radio or any device paired with the car’s audio system when front seat occupants aren’t wearing their seat belts. It will give both audible and visual warnings when the vehicle is traveling faster than a pre-set maximum speed between 40 and 75 miles per hour.

But perhaps the most important feedback will come via the customizable report parents can download filled with such information as distance driven, top speed achieved, preset speed warnings exceeded, number of stability control and anti-lock braking events, as well as forward-collision alerts and auto-braking events (on vehicles equipped with those features).

Tech-savvy teens won’t simply be able to turn off the car’s stability control or traction control to evade detection by the system. A PIN-protected menu enables parents to determine which features can and cannot be deactivated. “We developed this system so parents could use it as a teaching tool with their kids—they can discuss and reinforce safe driving habits,” said General Motors safety engineer MaryAnn Beebe in a statement.

While Chevy’s system may go a long way toward encouraging safe driving among teenagers, it doesn’t appear to address perhaps the most alarming trend among younger drivers: distraction via mobile devices. Car and Driver reports that “in-car device-muting technology is being worked on in the industry as a whole, but it still isn’t ready for prime time.”

Flight control

NASA’s latest experimental aircraft, the X-57, looks to break all the rules of how planes fly and may pave the way for entirely new aircraft designs.

Code-named LEAPTech (Leading Edge Asynchronous Propellers Technology) the plane will be about the size of a small general aviation aircraft, but instead of a single large propeller, LEAPTech will integrate 18 tiny electrically powered propellers into a narrow wing with a total area of about 5 square meters. A conventional plane of the same size would need three times as much wing area.

The smaller wing area significantly reduces drag when the aircraft is at cruise altitude, making the plane much more efficient. LEAPTech uses the 18 small electric engines to blow air directly across the wing, generating greater low-speed lift during takeoffs. Traditional aircraft use their engines exclusively for forward propulsion, and lift is generated as a byproduct of that forward movement.

Also, because maximum power isn’t necessary for efficient cruising, some of the 18 engines can be shut down and their propellers folded back against their nacelles to make the aircraft even more aerodynamic.

NASA is currently testing the wing at Edwards Air Force Base and will build a prototype plane within two years. If the X-57 is successful, NASA hopes it will lead the aircraft industry into a transition to electric propulsion within a decade. —M.C.