by Michael Graham Richard, Gatineau, Canada
Car doors can be pretty dangerous to cyclists (and sometimes pedestrians) in urban areas. In theory, the simplest solution would be to just have motorists pay attention when they open their doors, but human nature being what it is, it's doubtful that we'll ever get to that point (education can make things better, but 100% safe for cyclists? Probably not). Technology comes to the rescue: BMW is working on 'intelligent' car doors that will simply become harder to push open when they detect danger.
The current prototype looks like a normal car door, but an extra metal bar runs through its centre and connects to the car's frame between the hinges. In normal mode, the bar moves freely and doesn't affect the door's movement.
However, if sensors detect a nearby obstacle at the same time as an accelerometer detects an attempt to open the door, the door's swing is restricted by a linear motor attached to the bar.
To pass on more information to the user, the amount of door resistance is in proportion to the proximity of an object – for example, you might swing a door halfway open without problems before it gets stiffer as it nears a lamp post.
Now there's a technology that could save lives! People should still pay attention and look around when they open their doors - especially between now and the time when the 'smart' door is on all cars - but humans are forgetful and easily distracted, so having a backup plan is always a good idea.
BMW says the technology is mature and could be implemented in commercially available cars, but it hasn't made a decision on whether to move forward or not yet. I encourage them to do so.