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Feds Roll Out Wireless Crash Avoidance Test Program

Feds Roll Out Wireless Crash Avoidance Test Program

The U.S. DOT has fitted nearly 3,000 cars in the Ann Arbor, Mich., area with wireless devices that communicate with each other in real time. By sharing information, they can help drivers avoid accidents and traffic snarls. If the test is successful, it could be expanded to a much larger scale.

By John P. Mello Jr.
08/22/12 8:20 AM PT

The Starship Enterprise has its deflector shields to defend itself from attacks by enemy weaponry, and if all goes well with a pilot program launched Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), road warriors will have wireless systems to defend themselves from collisions with other vehicles.

Under the year-long Safety Pilot program set in motion in Ann Arbor, Mich., 2,800 cars, trucks and buses will be equipped with wireless technology to enable vehicles and infrastructure to "talk" to each other in real time to help avoid crashes and improve traffic flow.

The program is the first test in the real world of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication technology to avoid collisions.

Cut Crashes by 80%

With the technology in the program, vehicles send and receive electronic messages from each other. That information can be used to warn drivers of impending hazardous situations -- a collision at a blind intersection, a vehicle changing lanes in another vehicle's blind spot, a rear collision with a vehicle stopped ahead and such.

"If the test works out over the next year, we think it can reduce about 80 percent of the crash scenarios for non-impaired, non-drunk drivers," Richard Wallace, transportation systems analysis director for the Center for Automotive Research, told TechNewsWorld.

Data collected from the pilot program will be used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to determine where it should take the technology.

Critical Mass

If Safety Pilot is a success, it will take some time before there are enough cars on the road with the technology to make a significant impact on collisions, but adoption could be rapid, according to Wallace.

"The auto companies are already heavily involved," he explained.

"There is also a fair potential for a relatively inexpensive aftermarket retrofit of existing vehicles," he added.

Aftermarket offerings could include fully-equipped broadcast-receive devices and broadcast-only systems. "Broadcast-only systems might even be provided to bicyclists and pedestrians to make them standout to drivers who have fully-equipped systems," Wallace observed.

Safety Pilot will include a mix of devices -- standard equipment, aftermarket and broadcast-only, he added.

Another factor that would contribute to rapid adoption of the technology would be federal rules requiring it be included in future vehicles, noted Green Car Congress Editor Mike Millikin.

"DOT has been investigating the tech for some time, as have the automakers," he explained to TechNewsWorld. "But the outcome of a pilot of this scale will likely determine whether or not DOT pushes ahead with it."

A decision on that could be made as early as 2013, he continued. "A very successful pilot would make that highly likely," he said.

Eight Auto Makers on Board

The Ann Arbor pilot is being conducted by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). The US$22 million partnership between UMTRI and DOT is part of a joint research initiative led by the NHTSA to see how well wireless communication technology works in the real world.

"There are many safety and convenience applications to this, as well as applications related to mobility and sustainability," Jim Sayer, program manager and an associate research scientist at UMTRI, observed in a statement.

In addition to UMTRI, eight major auto makers are participating in the pilot program. They are Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen.

The Ann Arbor rollout is phase two of the Safety Pilot Program. In August 2011, DOT began gathering acceptance data on collision avoidance technology through six clinics set up in Michigan, Minnesota, Florida, Virginia, California, and Texas. That phase, completed in January, revealed that 90 percent of the drivers participating in the clinics would like to have vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology installed in their own cars.


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