Networked cars connected wirelessly can warn drivers about collisions at intersections.
Credit: U.S. Department of Transportation
Today's cars don't talk with drivers as KITT did in "Knight Rider," but the ability to talk wirelessly with other vehicles could prove even better. Thousands of volunteer Michigan drivers have begun testing how a vehicle-to-vehicle network can make U.S. roads safer.
In the largest ever real-world experiment, the U.S. Department of Transportation kicked off a yearlong project yesterday (Aug. 21) with about 3,000 cars, trucks and buses in Ann Arbor, Mich. All of the vehicles-carry Wi-Fi technology that allows them to exchange wireless messages with other vehicles or traffic devices — a capability that can warn drivers about possible collisions at blind intersections or vehicles creeping up in a blind spot.
"This cutting-edge technology offers real promise for improving both the safety and efficiency of our roads," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has projected that networked car technology could help avoid or reduce the severity of four out of five crashes involving unimpaired drivers.
Networking may prove to be a crucial part of any future involving self-driving cars. Cars could react quickly to impending collisions or traffic warnings, boosting road safety even more than simply by alerting their human operators.
"Vehicle-to-vehicle communication has the potential to be the ultimate game-changer in roadway safety — but we need to understand how to apply the technology in an effective way in the real world," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.
The newly launched road tests represent the second phase of the government's Pilot Safety project. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to collect data from the yearlong test to decide when to push the vehicle safety technologies to more U.S. vehicles.
Ninety percent of those who tried out the technology in Department of Transportation "driver acceptance clinics" wanted the safety features installed in their personal vehicles, officials said.
But a world of cars talking wirelessly with one another also raises new risks. Any network suffers from the problems of hacking and computer viruses — a new challenge for car security.