A revolutionary new technology that allows vehicles to communicate with each other and their surroundings is poised to become one of the biggest safety breakthroughs out of Detroit since the introduction of the airbag. Intelligent vehicles, which Ford demonstrated this week at RFK Stadium in conjunction with the Washington Auto Show, allow drivers to receive warnings from other cars, roads signs and traffic intersections. Beeps, flashing lights or even electronic voices alert drivers that they're dangerously close to each other. When necessary, the technology can instantaneously for a car take evasive action to avoid a collision.
The FCC already has set aside Wi-Fi spectrum for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, which could be offered in new cars in the next five to ten years. Retrofits are also expected to be available for older models. In an e-mail exchange this week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, a division of the Department of Transportation, shared its thoughts about this new form communication, and how it might save lives. An edited version of the interview follows:
What is the DOT's view of vehicle-to-vehicle technology?
We are extremely encouraged by the research, analysis of the safety data, and the ongoing human factors work that all point to V2V as the next major safety breakthrough. Additional information can be found in DOT's Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Strategic Research Plan, 2010-2014.
What are the latest stats on annual highway fatalities?
In 2009, a total of 33,808 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, a 9.7 percent decline from 37,423 deaths reported in 2008, and the lowest number of deaths since 1950 (which had 33,186).
Could this technology help reduce those fatalities?
NHTA believes that V2V safety applications could address 80 percent of vehicle crash scenarios, by helping drivers avoid crashes. We're currently conducting research to verify the effectiveness of these systems.
Are you concerned that extensive deployment of vehicle to vehicle technology could further strain the nations already congested spectrum resources?This is not an issue because spectrum has already been dedicated for this purpose.
Is there any risk of interference to the wireless transmissions, such as from other electronic gadgets, large objects or even the elements (wind, rain, snow)?
It is a line of sight technology with a range of approximately 300 meters. The signal can be blocked by buildings or other large structures. However, it is still sufficient for the priority safety applications such as intersection collision avoidance. It is not sensitive to weather or broadcasts on neighboring frequencies.
Is this technology being used anywhere in the U.S. or globally - if so, what has the result been?
This technology is currently being tested under a cooperative agreement between NHTSA and a consortium of automobile manufactures. The results demonstrate that it is sufficiently reliable and effective to support the safety applications. A model deployment of the system is in the planning stage, which would demonstrate a large scale real-world implementation of V2V safety systems. Complementary efforts are underway in Europe and Japan.