November 4, 2005 1:06 PM PST
Wireless: The new backseat driver?
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The car's dashboard computer screen will also show icons of nearby vehicles. The typical green icon will turn yellow if there's reason for caution (the distance between vehicles is decreasing at a fast clip, for instance). The icon will change to red if there's imminent danger, and at that time, the driver's seat will vibrate.
Drivers can turn on an automatic braking feature to ensure the car will stop in the event of an upcoming crash.
GM is using the communication protocol called Dedicated Short Range Communication, or DSRC, to send and receive messages. The cars communicate using the wireless spectrum 5.9 gigahertz licensed from the FCC for public safety. Toll agencies already use the spectrum to automatically charge commuters with digital IDs.
The Cadillac prototype itself has four computers in the trunk, along with a GPS system and wireless communication module. GM would try to fit much of the software onto a single chip by the time the cars would be ready for production.
The technology was researched over the last two years, but serious development began a year ago by four engineers in GM's internal research and development department, said Mudalige.
One of the biggest benefits of the wireless system would involve cutting the costs of radar and so-called lidar sensors, which measure speed and distance. GM, BMW and many other carmakers currently use those sensors in luxury cars for features like adaptive cruise control, which modulates the speed of a car based on surrounding vehicles.
Mudalige said the wireless sensors could do the work of the long-range and short-range sensor technology much more inexpensively because they're relying on wireless communication between vehicles. To get the same surrounding effect of wireless V2V sensors, carmakers would have to put radar sensors in many places on the car, which would be too expensive. The wireless sensors cost about $100, he said.
Cars like BMW's Mini Cooper already include sensing technology that alerts the driver when the car is too close to another vehicle while parallel parking, for example. Those sensors are lidar and radar sensors. To get the same effect with wireless technology, GM and others would have to build infrastructure in parking lots, for instance.
The V2V system is still far from perfect in other ways, too. In a test drive with a reporter as passenger, the car's computer system failed during an emergency stop. Luckily, Mudalige took over by braking himself.
Despite such bugs, Mudalige is still confident about cars communicating wirelessly. The technology could not only help protect people, it could also help traffic advisers detect and deliver alternate routes to commuters during traffic jams.
"The auto industry will definitely go towards wireless because it's a significant benefit to society to save lives, reduce pollution and for energy conservation," he said. "This is just the beginning."
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