August 22, 2012

U.S. Government To Test “Talking” Cars

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

The U.S. Government will soon begin testing “talking” cars in an effort to reduce crashes and congestion. Working together with the University of Michigan, American officials will install wireless devices into some 3,000 buses, cars and trucks. These devices are meant to communicate with one another about important traffic information, such as upcoming congestion, crashes, a vehicle´s speed and location, and can even change a light from red to green.

These cars won´t so much “speak” to one another as they will communicate with one another and alert drivers of upcoming dangers through beeps, flashes and vibrations. According to safety regulators, if cars are given the opportunity to share information with one another, 4 out of 5 car crashes will be less severe. These talking cars will only be able to reduce this severity if the driver is not impaired, say the regulators, implying that though technology can do many great things for society, the human element is still a crucial one.

"This is a big deal and I think everybody here believes this has a lot of promise," said Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary, speaking at a press event in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

"But until we see the data, until the study is complete, we won't know with certainty what promise it really has. A year from now I think we will."

Once these tests are completed and the data is compiled, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will determine if these wireless communication devices should be mandatory in new automobiles. No matter how these tests go, it will be a while before we start seeing this kind of technology on the road, said LaHood. Despite the results of these tests, a decision is not scheduled to be made until August 2013.

This test is currently underway and is the largest ever of its kind. These talking cars will be driven in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a small town with a population of nearly 115,000.

General Motor Company and the Toyota Motor Corporation have supplied the cars for the $25 million test. The Transportation Department is footing a large portion of this bill, paying up to 80% of the total costs.

In addition to speaking with one another, these test cars will also be able to “talk” with roadside devices in 29 areas in Ann Arbor. So, if traffic is clear and all is safe, one of these talking cars will change the light from red to green as it approaches, and even alert the driver when the light is changing at an upcoming intersection.

These connected cars will also be able to let one another know about their speed and location, as well as alerting drivers if the car in front of them has suddenly slowed down or hit their brakes. These kinds of alerts are what have the Transportation Department predicting fewer and less severe traffic accidents.

Putting these devices in cars is the second part of a longer, DOT test. In the first phase, the Department asked drivers if they´d be in favor of “vehicle-to-vehicle” technology. According to their survey, an overwhelming 9 out of 10 drivers said they were “highly favorable” to this kind of technology being implemented on the roadways.

Now, car makers have to determine in what ways the drivers will be alerted of any upcoming danger. Some car makers have chosen flashes, beeps or LED lights to send a message to the driver. Ford, for instance, uses all three to keep a driver alert.

"We want people to get warnings when they need warnings," said Ford´s technical leader for vehicle communications Michael Shulman.

"But we don't want them to get alerts when there's a car in another lane that's not really a threat."