Data being collected in a connected vehicles study by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) means “we could be at the verge” of a transformation of surface transportation safety, mobility, and environmental performance, said the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, as Jayne O’Donnell and Megan Kowalski report for USA TODAY.
The “Safety Pilot” project, which began in August 2012, seeks to determine the effectiveness of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) safety applications for reducing car accidents, showing how drivers respond to such technologies in a real-world environment, and evaluating the feasibility, scalability, security, and interoperability of Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), according to SAE.org.
The projects involves more than 2,800 vehicles — passenger vehicles, transit vehicles, and heavy-duty trucks — with a wide variety of devices, Debby Bezzina, Senior Program Manager for Safety Pilot Model Deployment at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, explains in an SAE video interview. Some of the devices are merely transmitters, while others are fully integrated systems with safety benefits, Bezzina said.
USA TODAY writes that the vehicles in the project are from eight automakers with built-in connected technology, and about 300 other vehicles have aftermarket devices that allow them to connect with each other and the road infrastructure. In addition, some motorcycles, commercial trucks, and buses in the study also have such add-on devices.
USA TODAY goes on to say:
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication, what the researchers call V2V, is heading down a road many see leading to self-driving cars. And it’s a natural next step now that automakers are increasingly adding features that slow and even stop cars when sensors detect crashes are imminent. This connected car technology, a modified version of Wi-Fi called dedicated short-range communication (DSRC), sends signals that alert other drivers of things like dangerous road conditions or risky drivers. That means drivers — or cars — can react to things even before a sensor can detect them.
In this study, cameras inside and outside the vehicles capture how drivers are responding to the technology’s warnings. Regulators will analyze the collected data to evaluate the most effective ways to warn drivers about impending hazards. USA TODAY notes that the companies whose vehicles are in the project (General Motors, Ford Motor, Toyota, Hyundai/Kia, Honda, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan) use different ways to alert drivers of possible danger in the road.
USA TODAY gives a few examples:
A Ford Taurus SHO demonstrated in Washington, D.C., last week used red LED lights across the bottom of the windshield, vibrating seats and a beep to alert the driver there was a stopped vehicle ahead and later that a car hidden behind a large truck was speeding through a red light. Volkswagen and Audi uses audible alarms and graphics in the instrument pane, but spokesman Brad Stertz says vibrating steering wheels might be tried as well.
Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told USA TODAY that even if NHTSA begins its rulemaking late this year, it could take two or more years for the final rules, and several more years for a phase-in. She estimates that cars with V2V technology could be available to buy within five years.
Such technology could prevent more than 80% of crashes each year that do not involve impaired drivers, according to the DOT, as USA TODAY reports. “And while drunken drivers can’t be relied upon to respond to any warnings, says Tigran Khatchatrian an electronics and safety engineer for VW and Audi, those who aren’t impaired will at least be better prepared if they’re sharing the road with a driver who is.”
One thing that could speed up the process of bringing the technology to market is the fact that there are “no obvious opponents,” as USA TODAY writes: “After 20 years in the auto industry, connected vehicles represent the “one time I remember everybody really thinking, ‘This is a great idea,'” says UMTRI spokeswoman Francine Romine.”
Richard Wallace, of the Center for Automotive Research, told USA TODAY that although the cost of V2V is now estimated at $2,000 per car, the cost will come down once all cars on the road have the technology. Wallace said even if cars start having V2V in 2018, it would take another 10 years or more for most vehicles on the road to have the technology. But aftermarket devices will also be available with a lot of the same capability, USA TODAY writes.
In the SAE video, Bazzina says the projects biggest challenge is the enormous coordinated effort, as there are so many parties involved. As SAE writes, they include:
• Parsons Brinckerhoff/City of Ann Arbor: City infrastructure
• HNTB/Michigan Department of Transportation: State highway infrastructure and outreach
• Mixon Hill: Infrastructure data backhaul
• SAIC: Interoperability testing
• escrypt: Wireless security
• TTI: Application evaluation/recommendations
• AAA: Outreach assistance.
You can see SAE’s video interview with Debby Bazzina here: