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A new radar device could warn drivers of road hazards

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Ask any motorist about the worst weather for driving. Heavy rain, snow, or fog are likely to be mentioned. Windshield wipers can help motorists see in the worst downpour, and snow tires make it easier to get around in a blizzard. But until now, there was little one could do when the air turned to pea soup - except pull over and wait. For truckers and other long-distance travelers, taking a break can be difficult.

A new device could change that. Mounted on the dashboard just like a radar detector, the Rashid Radar Collision Warning System is the world's first practical collision avoidance system for trucks and passenger cars.

The device shares some basic technology with the commonplace radar detector, but there is one big difference. It not only receives signals; it transmits a thin microwave beam in front of a vehicle and the reflections from obstacles ahead tells the device's computer whether there is a danger of a collision.

The idea for the warning system came to George E. Rashid Sr., the late founder of Vehicle Radar Safety Systems Inc., when he was driving home one night in 1947 and found himself stuck in a dense fog.

``He had to pull over to wait for a trailer so they could follow its taillights,'' says Mr. Rashid's son, Jack, who now runs the company with two other brothers. ``He turned to my mother and said `if they can have radar in the sky to guide airplanes, they can have it for cars and trucks on the road.'''

It took the senior Rashid five years to perfect his first working model, and because it relied on bulky vacuum tubes, it did not leave much room in the car for passengers.

Today, micro-electronics have cut the warning unit's size to about that of a pack of playing cards. There is also a small antenna mounted under a car or truck's grille, and a small signal-processing unit, also hidden out of the way.

Essentially, the radar warning system is designed to alert a driver when his car is approaching the point where he must apply the brakes to avoid a collision.

According to a car's speed and its distance from an obstacle, Jack Rashid explains, ``the system will give you safe braking distance, not following distance, because you don't want it to go off when you're merging into traffic.''

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