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DUSTIN WALSH

Denso technology has cars talking



August 17, 2011 - 3:05 pm ET
Dustin Walsh covers auto suppliers for Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.Dustin Walsh covers auto suppliers for Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.

Talking cars are real.

And I'm not talking about the buddy babble between David Hasselhoff and KITT. But your car will communicate in the foreseeable future -- with other cars, drivers and even traffic signals.

Toyota affiliate Denso International America Inc. showed off its "talking car" technologies today to reporters in suburban Detroit.

As I prepared to strap myself into a Cadillac SRX crossover fitted with crash avoidance technology, Denso engineers casually chatted about the complex Web of wireless technologies working to keep my face from meeting the windshield.

"The integrated technology uses GPS, a Wi-Fi radio and sensors to broadcast where we are on the earth," said Roger Berg, vice president of wireless technologies. "Seeing is believing. Connected cars, the technology is real and effective."

Minutes later, the passenger seat was being compressed by my weight as our Cadillac sped toward the parked Lexus a few hundred yards away. (Did I mention they made me sign a waiver?)

As we approached certain doom, a screen affixed to the console began to run through its warning procedures, alerting the driver of a frontal collision if action is not taken. The driver braked, we stopped abruptly -- ask my sore shoulder -- and with plenty of space between our car and the Lexus.

The technology is part of a push by automakers, suppliers and the U.S. government to increase vehicle safety.

Cars equipped with advanced avoidance technologies could help in preventing 81 percent of all police-reported crashes involving unimpaired drivers, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report.

The Denso system works by pinpointing the car's geographical location on the globe and communicating that signal with the other vehicles on the road.

The system sends out 10 signals a second, constantly communicating with surrounding vehicles, ensuring the driver is aware of any potential hazards. It alerts the driver to brake if he/she is approaching a slower vehicle too quickly, the presence of another car entering into an intersection, etc.

The same technology can also be used not only from vehicle-to-vehicle, but also vehicle-to-infrastructure.

The Denso demo continued, as we drove out of the parking lot and onto to busy road. A stretch of traffic lights on the road were retrofitted to communicate with Denso's system.

SAE International was awarded a U.S. Department of Transportation contract to install the technology. McLean, Va.-based Science Applications International Corp. completed the installation in April.

Denso's vehicle-to-infrastructure system communicates with the traffic lights, informing the driver when a traffic light will turn from red to green, or vice versa.

It also communicates a suggested speed to ensure that the driver hits as many green lights as possible -- which, in turn, ensures optimal fuel economy. Fewer stops means fewer accelerations and more miles per gallon.

Safety technologies from Denso and other suppliers have been tested over the summer in selected cities across the U.S., the results of which will help NHTSA decide if the technology should be mandated for inclusion in future models.

NHTSA will rule on the technology in 2013.

Until then, suppliers and automakers will continue to spend millions developing the technology with the hopes that one day your car will talk too.