Newspaper article International New York Times

The Future of Highway Safety: Cars That Communicate with One Another

Newspaper article International New York Times

The Future of Highway Safety: Cars That Communicate with One Another

Article excerpt

Researchers are experimenting with vehicles that are in constant communication with one another and their surroundings to warn drivers of danger.

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. Tires screech.

There is little time to react.

Researchers here 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.

The United States Transportation Department announced this week a plan to require in coming years that the technology, so-called vehicle-to-vehicle communication, be installed in all cars and trucks in the United States. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called it "the next great advance in saving lives."

Google may already be experimenting with its own driverless cars, but the technology being tested in the university town of Ann Arbor by a group of academic, industry and government researchers could be retrofitted into ordinary cars.

The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that vehicle-to-vehicle transmitters will add about $350 to the total cost of a vehicle by 2020. The agency expects prices to fall as the mandate approaches, as has already happened with features like rearview cameras, which will be required in 2018. By the end of the decade, if all goes as planned, the typical American vehicle will be part of a network, constantly sharing information as it travels.

At a government-sponsored pilot program 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.

Drivers today can buy cars that monitor blind spots, warn them when they veer out of a lane and even park themselves. Such features are overseen by sensors inside the car: cameras, radar and lasers that scan the road like electronic eyes. Like any pair of eyes, however, they can warn about only what they can see. The technology developing in Ann Arbor focuses on hazards even electronic eyes can't spot.

"If there are several vehicles between you and the one that's panic-braking, you may not even be aware of it," said Debby Bezzina, assistant program manager for the University of Michigan experiment. "You definitely can't see their taillights."

The wireless technology goes beyond cars talking to other cars. …

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