By Casey Williams
Special to Tribune Newspapers
November 17, 2012
In recent years, automakers installed forward-looking radar and cameras to maintain safe distances from other cars, keep vehicles in their lane, and alert drivers of impending accidents — going as far as automatically braking and stopping the car if necessary. Imagine if your car could not only look ahead, but also see other vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists around the corner or over the next hill. With a form of Wi-Fi, your car will soon do that and much more.
"A driver may not even be able to see a vehicle, but their car can communicate with it," said Don Grimm, senior researcher for General Motors' Perception and Vehicle Control Systems group. "Say a vehicle ahead of you encounters an obstacle. It can communicate that and provide the driver with a heads-up to avoid a collision."
The idea is to give vehicles, bicyclists and even pedestrians sensors that can communicate wirelessly with each other. If an integrated network knows all of their locations, it can keep vehicles and people from running into each other. Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) "Wi-Fi" allows vehicles to communicate with each other and roadside sensors independently of a network. Additional Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) sensors would contribute real-time road conditions, stop light status, and accident locations to route traffic efficiently, or with the help of automatic braking systems, bring vehicles to a halt.
To pilot this type of system, the University of Michigan, eight automakers and Department of Transportation joined to outfit over 3,000 vehicles in Ann Arbor, MI with sensors. Automakers like GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan VW, Hyundai/Kia and Mercedes contributed 64 vehicles. Twenty-nine roadside sensors were also installed. Data from the trial will ultimately help the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) decide by 2013 whether or not it should formally pursue this technology, legislated or otherwise.
"One of the real advantages is to do these types of features at relatively low cost," continued Grimm. "One approach is to use radar and cameras. Customers get an immediate benefit, but the downsides are cost and complexity. Wireless can communicate 360 degrees around a vehicle. As you know more information about your environment, you can move beyond providing beeps and display messages to help avoid a crash. This technology will help save lives."
Wi-Fi allows our mobile devices to communicate with a world far beyond our physical location. By harnessing that technology for roadways, we can save lives and avoid accidents — far more simply and cost-effectively than ever before imagined.
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