Feds, automakers launch pioneering connected-car safety study
Ray LaHood: “Cars talking to cars is the future of motor safety, it opens the possibility of not just reducing the number of crashes, but preventing them all together."
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The U.S. Department of Transportation today launched its first large-scale real-world study on the use of vehicle connectivity to enhance safety -- an effort that officials compared to the early development of seat belts or airbags.
Nearly 3,000 cars, trucks and buses have been outfitted with sensors that will enable the vehicles to communicate with one another and collect data that researchers will be able to use to determine whether the devices help drivers avoid crashes.
In a ceremony on the University of Michigan campus here, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was joined by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Strickland and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, said the "smart" cars could one day prevent up to 80 percent of crashes involving nonimpaired drivers.
"Cars talking to cars is the future of motor safety. It opens the possibility of not just reducing the number of crashes, but preventing them altogether," LaHood said, speaking in the safety pilot's preparation garage.
LaHood said that at the end of the yearlong study, NHTSA would review the data from the pilot program and determine whether to implement federal regulations.
"There's no decision on a rule. We don't even know if there's going to be a rule," he said. "We're going to work with our friends in the industry. We're going to work with the researchers. We're going to look at the data and then we're going to decide how to proceed."
The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute will conduct the $25 million federally funded study, and eight automakers -- General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG, Hyundai Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. -- are each contributing eight vehicles that will be equipped with transmitters and receivers to communicate with other vehicles and warning systems that will alert drivers if a crash is imminent.
A few hundred other vehicles will be equipped with transmitters and receivers that will enable them to communicate with one another, but won't notify drivers. Even more vehicles will have units that will send data to researchers regarding the speed and location of the vehicles as they interact with other equipped vehicles.
Denso Corp. of Japan and Savari Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., are the primary suppliers of the systems.
The devices in the study will be used for a handful of safety applications. They will be able to send an alert when:
A driver fails to brake quickly enough when a vehicle is stopping in front of him or her
A driver tries to change lanes with a vehicle in his or her blind spot
A vehicle ahead of the driver comes to a sudden stop
It is unsafe to enter an intersection
Many vehicles on the road today have radar-based technology that can perform some of these functions, but the safety pilot is using a Wi-Fi-like system, called dedicated short-range communications, that will allow the vehicles to communicate with one another. So, for instance, an equipped car will be able to alert the driver when a car two or three vehicles ahead makes a sudden stop.
Transmitters and receivers that will communicate with the vehicles and can potentially alert drivers about road and traffic conditions will also be outfitted on 73 miles of roadway throughout Ann Arbor.
Speaking after the event, Mike Shulman, technical leader of Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, called the Wi-Fi-like system "the next big opportunity in safety."
Though production costs aren't yet known, Shulman said the technology is relatively affordable, comparing it to Wi-Fi systems in laptops, cell phones or other mobile devices. And while NHTSA said it will begin to consider rule-making for the technology at the end of the study next year, Shulman said the earliest the systems could be implemented would be within six to eight years.
"It's a little bit a way," he said, "but not incredibly far."
You can reach Joseph Lichterman at firstname.lastname@example.org.