SiliconFilter

Safe Driving: Why Your Next Car Will be Connected to the Cars Around it

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When cars can talk to the Internet, many interesting things can happen. When they can talk to each other, though, even more possibilities open up.

Connected cars that have always-on Internet connections and are able to send and receive data as the driver moves through traffic are becoming more and more common. The next wave or car connectivity, however, could be less about the Internet and more about creating ad-hoc networks between cars and allowing them to talk to each other. Various academic and industry groups are currently working on testing these systems, which allow cars within a certain radius to alert each other of sudden stops, cars that are about to blow red lights and other hazards.

Making Car-to-Car Communication Mandatory

This isn’t just an academic question anymore, either, as Ford, for example, is already regularly demonstrating the abilities of its system to the press and as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has set a deadline for developing a standard for this kind of car-to-car connectivity. By 2013, the car industry is expected to agree on a standard for these systems and there is some talk about making them mandatory in new cars soon thereafter.

I spent some time in Dearborn, MI last month and got to take a look at Ford’s car-to-car “Intelligent Vehicles” communications system (see disclaimer below) that shows just how effective this kind of technology can be in avoiding accidents. The video below shows what this looks like in practice:

The technology allows the cars within a set radius around each other to exchange basic data like location, speed and direction of travel and more detailed information like whether somebody is accelerating, decelerating or braking and what a car’s steering angle currently is.

ford_car_demo

Coming to a Car and Intersection Near You

To make all of this a reality, though, car makers will not just have to agree on a standard for exchanging this information, but tools like this will also have to be available in enough cars to make them useful. As one of Ford’s engineers explained to me, there are already some technologies that make some of this functionality available to drivers, but they are generally based on proprietary – and hence expensive – parts. These car-to-car communication systems, on the other hand, are mostly based on off-the-shelf technology and can get their data from sensors that are already standard in most new cars anyway.

The system gets even more effective once the streets themselves also become connected. Not only could an intersection tell a driver that he is about to blow a red light, but traffic lights themselves could also be adjusted on the fly for any given traffic condition.

If the NHTSA really makes car-to-car communication mandatory, we will likely see rapid development in the deployment of these technologies, which, after all, will also make driving safer and could even speed up the arrival of self-driving cars.

What About the Police?

While thinking about this technology, I couldn’t help but also think about what this will mean for detecting speeders. Today, traffic cops still have to get out their laser or radar guns to find speeders. This new technology could make things a bit easier. Just wait for a speeding car to pass within range, get the data and pull the driver over. When cars are talking to each other, after all, they will also talk to the police cruiser that is parked next to the road. So far, I haven’t seen anybody address this issue, but it will surely become a hot topic as awareness about car-to-car communication grows.

Disclaimer: Ford covered for my travel and hotel expenses to the Forward with Ford conference in June.



6:08 pm


Using WiFi to Create Smarter, Safer Cars and Intersections

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A few weeks ago, I wrote that your next car might just have its own IP address. Besides talking to the Internet, though, there is also a lot of utility in using short-range networks that can link multiple cars together into a single, ad-hoc network and alert drivers of potential hazards. Today, Ford announced a new initiative that will rely on short-range WiFi signals to enable cars to create local networks to exchange data about their positions and speeds to avoid accidents.

Of course, this system only works once a lot of cars and manufacturers offer this feature and agree on a standard, but as the video below shows, there is a lot of potential for this. Cars that can talk to each other (and maybe even get traffic information from local “smart” intersections or highway on-ramps) don’t have to rely on expensive systems like radar. Instead, just basic GPS information, coupled with an ad-hoc WiFi network and some smart software could, as Ford puts it, “warn drivers if there is a risk of collision when changing lanes, approaching a stationary or parked vehicle, or if another driver loses control.”

Not Just Smart Cars, But Smart Intersections, Too

Ford is also proposing “smart intersections” that would be able to talk to cars and be able to “monitor traffic signal status, GPS data and digital maps to assess potential hazards, and then transmit the information to vehicles.”

The company is working with other car makers and the U.S. government to create standards for bringing this technology to deployment. In addition to all of this, the company also announced that it is doubling its intelligent vehicle investment in 2011 and plans to have demonstration vehicles that offer this WiFi-based technology on the road in the next few months.



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