Vehicles to Communicate, Prevent Car Accidents and Injuries
Think of it as social media, but for your car.
Like your kids, who have constant contact with their friends through texting, Twitter, and Facebook, our cars may soon start sending messages to one another. Not selfies and gossip, though. They’ll be sending their exact location, speed, and direction to cars around them — 10 times a second.
Now imagine you’re in a group of cars traveling on a Colorado highway on a foggy night. Four cars ahead of you, the driver sees a deer bounding across the road. She hits the brakes and swerves to a stop. There’s no five-car pileup on this dark night, though. All of the cars within a few hundred meters of each other have been chatting away, giving updates on their locations and speeds. The cars have been telling their drivers about the distances between the vehicles, calculating and recommending safe speeds. By the time that deer in the headlights has made it across the road, every car in the group knows something’s up. One car’s automatic brakes have engaged. And in a moment, the other drivers, farther back, tap on their brakes and glide to a gentle stop. Everyone is OK.
Sounds too good to be true, but maybe someday all cars will have these features.
Federal Government Leading Change
The U.S. Department of Transportation is studying “connected vehicle” systems to see how effective they could be in reducing auto accidents and the injuries and deaths that come with them, according to a report by ITS International, a trade magazine focusing on intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and developments.
Once connected vehicles are the rule on the highway, future systems could prevent an estimated 439,000 to 615,000 accidents in the United States per year, save as many as 1,300 lives, prevent upward of 400,000 major injuries and eliminate as many as 746,000 vehicle-damaging crashes, the industry journal reported. It cites USDOT’s joint program office for intelligent transportation systems, which in September issued its first report since 2014.
The program office and its affiliates are developing standard message guidelines for connected vehicles, particularly the “basic safety message” or BSM, which will give fellow cars the essential information to coordinate their travel and predicted paths.
In what could be seen as an attempt to gain popular support, the program’s website features enough splashy, consumer-friendly brochures and infographics to help any eighth-grader complete a winning science fair project.
Carmakers Warned of Future Requirements
Another USDOT agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, added significance to the trend by notifying carmakers that it may start requiring them to equip new models with short-range radio transmitters that will send the signals from car to car, ITS International reported. The agency is also telling carmakers that they may need to build future technologies like “intersection movement assist” and “left turn assist” systems into their vehicles to make the most of the connective systems. You might think of them like the parking-assist features you see on cars today. The basic equipment, the agency says, would cost a mere $250-$350 and probably fall below $200 within eight years. Automakers will likely follow suit by developing their own safety systems around those basics. Researchers see a challenge in finding the money to install the roadside equipment necessary to allow the connected vehicle systems to work.
Basic Tools for New Strategies
These are enough playthings for traffic and automotive engineers to start brainstorming ideas like “dynamic speed harmonization,” the journal said. As unlikely as that sounds, they’ve actually tried it out.
In 2015, researchers in the Seattle area showed that the basic connected vehicle components can reduce the number of cars and trucks traveling at unsafe speeds by as much as 20 percent, the journal reported. They proved the concept by rigging dashboard-mounted smartphones to show drivers recommended speeds and warn them about traffic congestion as much as 1 mile ahead. Another test project is working on “adaptive cruise control,” in which the system would automatically adjust a car’s speed. Besides added safety, the cars increased their fuel economy by as much as 22 percent.
GM Decades Ahead of the Competition
Everybody has heard about General Motors’ NorthStar system, which connects 12 million — yes, 12 million — cars and their drivers through cellphone-based connections, online journal NetworkWorld.com reported. Although the giant automaker is giving no details, it is quite clear about its intentions to make the most of a system that was once best known for calling 911 if your Cadillac was in an accident, or summoning help for a flat tire. The network, and the massive amounts of data it has collected, will let it spring forward with new tech.