Vehicle communication to bring era of safety

Transmitters that allow connection between vehicles set to become norm

Debby Bezzina works on a pilot programme on intra-vehicle communication the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor. Pilot programme: Debby Bezzina. Photograph: Joshua Lott/New York Times

Debby Bezzina works on a pilot programme on intra-vehicle communication the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor. Pilot programme: Debby Bezzina. Photograph: Joshua Lott/New York Times

 

A driver moves along in traffic, the forward view blocked by a truck or a bend in the road. Suddenly, up ahead, someone slams on the brake. Tyres screech. There is little time to react.

Researchers are working to add time to that equation. They envision a not-too-distant future in which vehicles are in constant, harmonious communication with one another and their surroundings, instantly warning drivers of unseen dangers.

When a motorist brakes quickly, a careless driver runs a red light or a truck bears down unseen in a passing lane, dashboards in nearby cars light up immediately with warnings – providing additional reaction time to avoid a pileup.

‘Saving lives’

Anthony Foxx

At a US government-sponsored pilot programme in Ann Arbor, being run by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, nearly 3,000 vehicles driven by volunteers are being tested in real-world conditions. Transmitters in the vehicles send and receive information 10 times a second: speed, direction, location and other data that automakers and federal regulators hope will usher in a new era of road safety.

The wireless technology goes beyond cars talking to other cars. It also allows the roads themselves to communicate – not just about traffic jams or road work, but whether there is black ice ahead, for instance. Even traffic lights can be part of the network.

On a recent summer morning, assistant program manager for the University of Michigan experiment, Debby Bezzina, pointed to the digital display in a university test vehicle as it drove through Ann Arbor’s model deployment zone, which includes about 70 miles of roadway throughout the city.

Bezzina demonstrated with test vehicles a common hazard: a driver stopping short. A companion car positioned itself a couple of hundred feet ahead and forcefully hit its brakes. Instantly, a red warning signal flashed on the rearview mirror, and a loud tone sounded.

“That will certainly get your attention,” she said.

The Ann Arbor pilot program started equipping local vehicles in 2012 with wireless transmitters, which operate on a special frequency set aside for vehicle-to-vehicle technology. If such projects succeed, the benefits could be considerable. The Transportation Department predicts that eight out of every 10 traffic accidents involving unimpaired drivers could be prevented.

Fewer crashes

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Dan Flores, a General Motors spokesman, said the car firm believed the safety benefits cannot be understated. “We’re not interested in this because it’s cool,” he said. “We think there’s a fundamental benefit where people can be safer if they have this technology.” – New York Times Service

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