In late August 2012, Ann Arbor, Michigan piloted the largest road test of vehicle to vehicle crash avoidance technology to date. Involving agencies from city, state, federal and top automaker industries, this pilot aimed to find out what cars can do when you enable them to see and talk to each other. This test allowed the auto industries to collaborate with each other, allowing Fords to communicate with Toyota, which in turn can speak to Volkswagens, etc.
3000 vehicles were equipped with transmitters and receivers to communicate with each other and with the infrastructure built into the streets. This infrastructure helped the cars gather and transmit data. The cars and streets were outfitted with special equipment to make them as safe as possible. The systems in place are to provide advanced warning and alert the driver of impending danger, hopefully leading to fewer accidents. These are the extra that we may very well see on our own cars in the next 5 – 10 years.
- Roof Mounted Antenna – Keeps the car connected to other cars and to wireless roadside infrastructure
- Transponder (In Trunk) – broadcasts vehicles location so that other vehicles can recognize the signal
- Blind Sport Warning Light – Shows up on side mirror if you try to make a lane change while another car is in your blind spot.
- Rearview Mirror Camera – An infrared camera records the drivers face, and another camera records the forward view as the car is in motion.
- Collision Indicator – Notifies the driver through flashing lights on the front windshield and through a vibrating seat that they need to stop immediately to avoid a crash.
- Side Cameras – Cameras mounted on both sides of the vehicle help capture blind spots and intersection scenarios (such as a driver running a red light).
- Curve Warning Device – These are actually set up along the streets, not on the car. They notify the vehicles of any sharp turns coming up via dual radio systems that communicate with the cars. They were required to have a range of 300 meters, but during testing worked as far away as 1300 meters. Each unit is powered over Ethernet, has a GPS unit to tell the car the exact location of the curve, and sends data to servers in real time for data tracking.
The Big Concern
Obviously safety is one of the greatest reasons for testing this type of equipment. In the United States there are about 33,000-38,000 deaths per year in auto accidents, and roughly 2.2 million are injured. If an early warning system could be developed to help prevent these injuries and fatalities, or even lessen them by, let’s say 15%, wouldn’t it be worth it?
Paving the Road for New Laws
This pilot does something else entirely; something they didn’t necessarily intend. It forces lawmakers and the auto industry to seriously look at cars doing more things for us. The automation of vehicles has been a dream of man for years now, and the biggest roadblock hasn’t been technology, but law. Google has tested driverless cars since before 2005, when Sebastian Thrun, Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View submitted his robotic vehicle to the DARPA Grand Challenge and won the 2 million dollar prize. The Google Driverless car has only had 2 accidents in all its testing – one was while under manual control, and the other was being rear ended while sitting at a stoplight. Both of them were human errors. The driverless car under automation has driven over 300,000 miles without ever getting in an accident of its own doing.
While some states have allowed these cars, on their roadways, many are skeptical. An attorney for the California DMV was quoted saying “The technology is ahead of the law in many areas.” And that the laws, “all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.” The New York Times stated that “the technology is now advancing so quickly that it is in danger of outstripping existing law, some of which dates back to the era of horse-drawn carriages.” That’s what we hope to change.
The End of Wasted Time
What if your commute was no longer wasted time? What if your car drove for you, and you could work on your laptop, or read the paper, or make an important business call? These things that seem terribly irresponsible to do while driving would be considered quite normal in an automated car. It wouldn’t be much different than being in a plane or train. Think of that extra hour (or two) every day you would have to work, relax, or talk to your kids. Perhaps you could even be paid for your commute since you would be working. The average driver loses 5 days a year stuck in traffic; let’s not keep wasting that time.