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Small microprocessors imbedded in a multitude of devices have enabled the creation of so-called “smart” devices that enable machines to interact with their environment. While the microprocessor has been an element of the automobile for many years, new applications are constantly being devised to make auto travel safer and more convenient. The following is a selection of several recently issued patents that use microprocessor technology to help make our cars smarter and safer. U.S. PATENT NO. 6,043,737 This patent, titled “Tire Monitoring and Deflation Warning Assembly,” describes an improved device that allows the operator of a vehicle to be alerted to dangerous situations created by a loss of tire pressure. The device consists of a microprocessor that is electrically connected to and in communication with tire sensing devices located on each tire. Since it is generally known that an undesirably deflated tire will have a lower pressure and turning radius, each tire sensing device continually monitors its associated tire to determine these values. Where the tires are substantially similar, the microprocessor may be programmed with values representing the upper and lower pressure and turning radius thresholds that are “approved” by the manufacturer. Alternatively, the controller may be coupled to a switch that, when depressed, causes the controller to enter a “learn” state. In the “learn” state, the controller will measure attributes associated with each tire and use the collected values to create a benchmark used in determining whether the tires later become deflated. As the vehicle operates, the controller periodically acquires attribute data from each of the respective tires. The data acquired is compared with the approved or benchmark values previously calculated. When the measured value is different and/or substantially different from the benchmark values, a warning device (e.g., visual or audio alarm) is selectively energized. Upon activation of the warning device, a switch may be manually actuated to reset the system. In this manner, the apparatus ensures that the operator of the vehicle is correctly warned, in a timely manner, of a deflated tire. U.S. PATENT NO. 6,043,735 Titled “Exit Illuminator Assembly for a Motor Vehicle” and assigned to Amerisafe Corp., this patent describes a device for selectively illuminating the interior of a vehicle in response to certain conditions, e.g., emergency conditions. The apparatus consists of a microprocessor electrically coupled to the automobile’s air bag system and transmission. The microprocessor is further electrically connected to and in control of an illuminator, such as a light bulb or fiber optic. Illuminators are selectively placed throughout the interior of the automobile, for example, by the door handle or the release mechanism on the seat belt assembly. By constantly monitoring the state of the air bag and transmission, the microprocessor may determine whether conditions are present that require passengers to exit the vehicle. For example, if the automobile were to be involved in an accident that required the air bag to be deployed, the microprocessor would interpret this signal and activate the illuminators to allow passengers to safely exit the vehicle. In an alternative embodiment, where the microprocessor receives a signal from the transmission system indicating that the vehicle has been placed in “park,” the illuminators may similarly be activated. The microprocessor is optionally coupled to a timer to determine how much time should elapse before the illuminators are deactivated. U.S. PATENT NO. 6,044,321 This patent, titled “Intelligent Cruise Control System for Moving Body” and assigned to Hitachi, describes a microprocessor controlled device that can intelligently alter the velocity of a vehicle in response to surrounding objects. The device contains: a distance detecting means (e.g., radar unit) for measuring a distance from the vehicle to an object in front of the vehicle, a speed detecting means for measuring the speed of the vehicle, a breaking-distance means for estimating the distance that a vehicle must travel to decelerate to a certain speed, and a deceleration means for comparing the values calculated by the breaking-distance means and the distance detecting means. All the elements of the system are controlled by a microprocessor, which receives the values generated by the various means to control the speed of the vehicle in relation to surrounding objects. The unit compares the values returned by the breaking distance means and compares these values with those returned from the distance detecting means. When the outcome of the comparison indicates that the estimated braking distance is longer than the distance measured by the distance detecting means, the vehicle is decelerated, thereby obviating the need for user intervention to decrease the speed of the vehicle when entering the proximity of another vehicle. CONCLUSION It is clear that digital technology in general, and microprocessors specifically, have altered nearly every facet of man-machine interaction. By applying these technologies to the field of vehicle safety, vehicle occupants can be assured of safer and more convenient travel. Matthew Kaufman is with the Patent Group at Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner LLP.

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