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Top 10 greatest automobile innovations ever (pictures)

From manufacturing techniques to in-car computers, these are the biggest breakthrough technologies in the history of the car.

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James Martin
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1 of 10 Library of Congress

Steam engines

For more than 150 years, the car has been a hotbed of technology, with everything from power and lights to methods of production and effeciency the focus of engineers and innovators.
As idea of the car as a personal mode of mechanized transportation was coming to fruition in the late 1800s, the steam engine was initially the engine of choice to power cars.
Having already been put to work on other machines, steam engines initially had the advantage over gasoline engines in that they were already in wide use and understood by mechanics and engineers.

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it


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2 of 10 Rosener, Ann/Library of Congress

Gasoline engine

By 1920, the internal combustion engine had progressed to such a point that the steam car was made almost obsolete. The automobile and the gasoline internal combustion engine were a powerful combination that is still the standard today.
Here, Emmet L. Reed, laboratory assistant at the U.S. Bureau of Standards, uses a special microscope to measure the degree of wear that substitute gasoline produced on an automobile engine cylinder circa 1940.

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it


3 of 10 From the collection of Henry Ford

Mass production

Following the invention of the gasoline engine, people really started buying cars. By the early 1900s, gasoline cars were hot, outselling everything else. As the market grew, and the popularity of the car spread, a new method of fast, more efficient production was needed.
Integration of assembly lines and mass production soon had cars flowing out of the factories at a much faster pace.

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it


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4 of 10 GM

Automatic transmissions

Hydra-Matic, introduced in 1940, was the first brand of mass-produced automatic transmission, making it easier for just about anyone to drive.
A GM ad for that model year proclaims: "No Clutch Pedal! A Free Unshackled Right Hand! World's Simplest, Easiest Way to Drive!"

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it


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5 of 10 Strutpatent

Power steering and power brakes

Power steering systems have been around since the beginning of the automobile, but were always far too expensive to be commercially viable.
Chrysler introduced the first commercially available passenger car power steering system on the 1951 Chrysler Imperial under the name "Hydraguide" -- another step in making cars easier to operate and more accessible to just about anyone.

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it


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6 of 10 James Martin/CNET

Seatbelts

Research has shown that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent.
According to the National Organizations for Youth Safety, ejection from the vehicle is one of the most severe events that can happen to a person in a car crash. In fatal crashes in 2008, 77 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed.

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it


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7 of 10 General Motors/Steve Fecht

Airbags and car safety

Broad commercial adoption of airbags occurred in the late 1980s with a driver airbag, and front passenger airbags on some cars, making cars much safer, saving thousands of lives each year.
Crash test dummies involved in a side impact collision demonstrate General Motors' new front center air bag, the industry's first inflatable center restraint designed to help protect drivers and front passengers in side impact crashes in 2011.
Today, safety innovation continues. Tesla recently released data about crash tests, showing that it not only earned 5-star ratings from NHTSA in every category, but proved to be safer than any other car on the road.

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it


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8 of 10 MICHAEL LATZ/AFP/Getty Images

Antilock brakes

While there were a few electronic braking systems in the 1960s, Mercedes-Benz was the first to install Antilock Braking Systems (ABS) on production cars in 1978. The computerized braking systems help maintain control while stopping and integrate additional stability control and roll mitigation technologies.
Here, an employee of the Quattro AG, a subsidiary of Audi, works on the brakes of an Audi R8 on the assembly line in the plant at Neckarsulm, Germany.

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it


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9 of 10 James Martin/CNET

Electric engines

For the most part, the engines that power our cars have remained remarkably unchanged through the years, but in recent years the electric engine and hybrid electric/gasoline engines have become more popular.

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it

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10 of 10 James Martin/CNET

Maps and GPS

Today's mapping technologies mean we can figure out how to get just about anywhere, anytime without getting lost. Many of the more advanced modern cars have large onscreen displays that put navigation via the Global Positioning System front and center.
Today, many car systems are entirely computerized -- everything from seats to the suspension and rear-view cameras.
And as cars become more and more computerized, calculating and adjusting every detail of your trip, why stop there? Why waste your time doing the actual driving, when technology can be your chauffeur? The century-old auto culture is on the verge of radical change, and you can thank Google for where it's headed.

See also: How Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it


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