Our Safety Thermometer

Temperature measurement has been a cornerstone of science for centuries. It's time we measure vehicle safety in the same rigorous way - so we know how safe we are.

April 11, 2023

When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it. — William Thomson (Lord Kelvin)

The measurement of temperature has been a cornerstone of science for centuries. From early thermometers to modern electronic ones, the need to measure temperature accurately has been an imperative throughout history - and our ability to do so has benefitted us greatly.

Galileo Galilei invented the first temperature measurement device, the thermoscope, in the 16th century. While rudimentary and, in the end, not particularly accurate - it relied on flasks of water and air to measure temperature changes - it was instrumental in giving scientists an understanding of the basic principles of temperature. In the 17th century, water and air were replaced with mercury, adding a layer of precision and speed to the process. However, the measuring still relied on unreliable phenomena like “the temperature of air in winter” or “the heat of a single candle”.*

Early thermoscopes were used mainly to confirm known truths: winter is colder than summer, liquid water is hotter than ice. Only after adding a consistent, proper scale (sometime in the early 18th century) could a suitable thermometer be used for science and industry.

How does this history lesson tie up with vehicle safety? When it comes to measuring safety, we have not progressed much further down the line than Galileo’s thermoscope. The questions “How safe is safe?” and “How much danger are we in while driving?” elicit subjective, non-numeric answers that don't provide a clear, usable picture of the safety of the device or system.

Until now.

With SHM, Streetscope has developed a measure of risk that is quantitative (i.e., expressible in numbers), independent, continuous, and repeatable - four attributes that make our tools fit for 21st-century mobility, including automated driving.

Today’s electronic thermometers are incredibly accurate and reliable. Their ability to measure temperature with stunning precision allows us to use those readings to improve our lives in countless ways, from cooking to industrial processes, from medical diagnosis to electronic and machine performance. It's time we measure vehicle safety in the same rigorous way - and reap the benefit and peace of mind from doing so.

* Find these and other examples, along with historical background, in James Vincent’s excellent Beyond Measure: The Hidden History of Measurement from Cubits to Quantum Constants.


Photo by Ilse Orsel on Unsplash

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