When Cars Talk, Drivers Gain Safety and Ease
A high-tech makeover of cars may be just what the generation of texting-while-you-drive needs, all with improved safety to boot.
Automakers are working toward outfitting their vehicles with communication technologies that will let vehicles talk to one another, providing safety information and a means of social networking. These carmakers envision transforming vehicles in a similar fashion to what phone makers have done when they moved from the regular talk-and-text phones to the smartphone.
The basic idea is to equip cars with GPS and some sort of networking capability to let cars talk with one another in such a way that would alert drivers to potential threats, traffic jams and road conditions.
Before their vision will see the light of day, however, several hurdles must be cleared, including finding the best wireless technology and figuring out how to prioritize incoming messages from nearby vehicles.
Even so, a team of carmakers is planning a field trial for next summer where each will test eight vehicles loaded with car-to-car communication abilities. The team includes Ford and General Motors from the United States; Honda, Nissan and Toyota from Japan; Mercedes, Volkswagen and Audi from Europe; and from Korea, Hyundai and Kia.
Future vehicle smarts
With car-to-car communication technology, each vehicle would serve as a sensor of sorts for other vehicles on the road, allowing each vehicle a 360-degree view of what's going on around them.
The new technology we're looking at is actually wireless communication using an advanced kind of Wi-Fi to send and receive messages between vehicles, said Mike Shulman, technical leader of Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.
Each car would send out a message about the car's position, speed, size and braking status among other things at about 10 times per second, with cars receiving that information at about the same rate.
As a driver, you probably wouldn't even realize it was happening; your car is sending and receiving these messages and everything is fine, Shulman told InnovationNewsDaily. And then once in a while if a car near you makes a mistake and is about to turn into you or run through a red light or stop sign, then you would get this warning. It would be just like a warning you would get with radar, except now we have 360-degree coverage and we have a lot more information and so we can do more warnings and we can get better information to make the warning better.
As part of a project called CarTel, researchers at MIT are developing a computer device that could be embedded into vehicles to collect and send out all this information. This embedded device is a wireless access point modified to include GPS that runs Linux. When fully realized, CarTel could be used to alert drivers of road surface conditions and provide specialized traffic-route planning.
Part of what we've done is develop a hardware platform that is installed into cars that collects data from them as they drive around using either wireless networks like Wi-Fi or a cell phone inside of the car, said one of the CarTel project leaders, Samuel Madden, an associate professor of computer science at MIT.
Once networked, each vehicle could send information about how long it took to get from one point to another, which when aggregated could tell drivers about how much traffic is in a certain area. This type of technology could even find and reserve parking spots in metropolitan areas.
While many believe that car-to-car communication technology is the wave of the future, there are still several impediments that must be overcome. For instance, wireless and cellular networks have limited capacity; therefore information coming into your vehicle will have to be prioritized. As well, this type of system requires that a large number of vehicles actually have the system installed.
Before it's useful to have emergency avoidance where one car alerts another car coming down the road, you need to have a fairly large fraction of the cars on the road, say 20 percent of cars on the road, for it to be useful to anybody, Madden said.
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