ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Could the smartphone -- the source of so many deadly driving distractions -- prove to be an auto safety device?
That question has been in my head ever since I rode along on a Honda demonstration of a safety system that integrates connected-car and autonomous-driving technologies.
The demo happened at last week's opening of Mcity, a sprawling testing ground built to simulate various types of driving environments and spur the development of autonomous and connected vehicles.
The festivities reflected some of the rivalry between the Midwest auto establishment and Silicon Valley over where the industry's boldest ideas will come from. But the thinking behind Mcity is that multiple stakeholders -- automakers, suppliers, tech companies and academics -- will need to cooperate to realize the promise of their technologies.
Honda's demo shows how that can happen. I was in an Acura sedan outfitted with DSRC, or dedicated short-range communications, technology, a wireless chip that broadcasts its location. A similar chip was installed on a smartphone held by a distracted pedestrian (a representation of one) at an intersection just ahead, and out of the driver's sight.
As the car approached the intersection, it alerted the driver to the pedestrian's presence and slowed down. Seconds later, as the mock pedestrian entered the road, the car's sensors triggered the brakes and stopped the car just in time. Neither driver nor pedestrian had to do anything.
It was an impressive showing. But now comes the hard part. The continued evolution of connected and autonomous cars will require collaboration from various players, inside and outside the auto industry.