Test of Wi-Fi-connected cars to begin

New technology could become key feature for driving safety in years to come

 

MCT NEWS SERVICE

 

DETROIT — Motorists in Ann Arbor, Mich., have a chance to change the future of the auto industry and significantly reduce fatalities from car accidents.

A portion of the city will be the setting for the world’s largest field trial to test the ability of cars to talk to one another and their surroundings to prevent accidents.

Wireless devices will be installed in the vehicles of almost 3,000 people who regularly drive in northwest Ann Arbor. Wi-Fi access also will connect buses, commercial trucks, traffic lights and road signs to transmit and receive data 10 times a second about every participating vehicle’s location, speed and direction in a bid to keep them from colliding.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Ann Arbor on Tuesday to mark the launch of the $25 million safety project, overseen by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Today is a groundbreaking day for American innovation,” LaHood said.

UM’s Transportation Research Institute has 3,500 volunteers so far and only needs 2,865, said director Peter Sweatman. Chosen participants must have wireless devices installed in their vehicles. The first 500 connected vehicles hit the road three weeks ago, and in October the full fleet will be in operation.

The project will gather data for a full year and is expected to result in future safety regulations mandating wireless connectivity by 2020 if the results show this to be the next frontier in drastically reducing traffic fatalities.

Last year, 32,310 people died in the U.S. in traffic accidents. LaHood said vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity could prevent or reduce the severity of up to 80 percent of crashes.

LaHood said the technology can successfully warn drivers of potential hazards ahead such as the sudden braking of a car two vehicles ahead or a speeding car hidden by a curve.

One-third of car fatalities are intersection collisions, said Michael Shulman, a Ford manager who has advised the project.

Today’s cars have sensors and lasers to detect potential danger, but they are limited in the distance they can see. Wireless updates provide a broader overview of what is happening on the road.

“The field of view you need is just too great for sensors and radars that are already in production,” Shulman said. “This acts like a vigilant passenger. If you make a mistake, you get a warning,”

LaHood said the technology has great promise, but would not publicly commit to a timeframe for legislation mandating wireless connectivity. He did say the budget will be there if it is deemed a safety priority.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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