November 4, 2005 1:06 PM PST

Wireless: The new backseat driver?

SAN FRANCISCO--Just in case you don't have enough backseat drivers, your car could one day tell you when you're about to screw up.

On Thursday, General Motors demonstrated a vehicle-to-vehicle, or V2V, wireless communication system that alerts you when a collision is imminent. The automaker equipped regular Cadillac STS sedans with wireless and Global Positioning System antennae and computer chips that allow the cars to communicate with other vehicles with similar equipment.

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The technology, demonstrated here with three cars navigating a special course, creates what could be described as a digital-driving symphony. The wireless technology in one car detects the presence of the other two Cadillacs and avoids collisions by either alerting the driver of danger or by automatically stopping the vehicle in an emergency.

In terms of an alert, the driver's seat gives off a heavy vibration to the left leg if the driver signals to enter the left lane, unaware of a car in his or her blind spot. Such a warning is an example of what, in the auto industry, is called "haptic feedback"--feedback related to the sense of touch. There's a visual cue too: An icon flashes in the car's rearview mirror to alert the driver that there's another car in the way.

"We're trying to standardize the wireless communication between cars, and we hope other car manufacturers will follow. This would be the reinvention of the vehicle," said Priyantha Mudalige, senior research engineer at GM and one of the four engineers who built the wireless safety system.

Of course, that's the obvious downside to this intriguing technology: For it to work effectively, all vehicles on the road would have to be fitted with similar equipment. Theoretically, if just one car on a busy highway lacked the right gear, the consequences could be severe.

"Before this works, we need to have market penetration," Mudalige said.

GM expects it could be five to 10 years before the safety system could go into production, Mudalige said. That's because it will likely take that long to sign agreements with other manufacturers and with standards agencies like the Federal Communications Commission.

Here's how the technology works:

A GPS antenna on the top of the car receives satellite information on the positions of other cars. A wireless antenna on top of the vehicle also receives up to 100 different data points from the car's internal network, including information on speed, braking and the use of turn signals. The computer system combines that data and broadcasts it.

That message is heard by any other equipped car within a quarter-mile radius. To ensure privacy, the messages do not include car identification numbers or personal information.

The car's software constantly calculates, in real time, other vehicles' positions and speeds. GM's proprietary algorithm, called the "threat assessment algorithm," also processes data from the GPS and the car's computer network, along with messages from other cars, in order to fire off warnings and prevent collisions.


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I guess people having to LEARN TO DRIVE isn't necessary
I love the sound of that auto breaking feature... your car's
computer (and we all know they're infallible) thinks it's going to
crash... hit's the breaks... and get's you rear ended!
Sounds like a good time on the freeway.
Why doesn't GM just put more effort into making smaller fuel
efficient cars instead of the gas guzzling POS that they're known
for now.
Posted by fear_and_loathing (82 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This sounds like the only kind of news you get is hear say and stigmas. Have you ever actually looked into facts. Which automaker is getting awesome gas mileage on large 6000 pound Mountians of iron on wheels? GM is rated actually quite high as gas mileage compared to all the vehicles on the market, a lot beating that of the "fuel efficent" hondas and toyotas.

If you care to even read quality reports Domestic vehicles are often rated on par or above that of imports are rated at.

If you think this program is odd and unsafe then you should look at the other automakers with "safe" tech. That is why they usually do so much research on this stuff, after all the testing and tweaking they then have to get it all approved through all teh various gov agencies. I wont say it is a cure all for all the problems that could happen but I am sure a resolves a majority of them. All in all they are just trying to make the vehicle more safe by ever mean possible. Everyone is tired of all the idiot lights and buzzers but as long as it doesn't actually reverses what it is suppose to do as harm me then I rather be able to walk away from a crash or escape from a wreck all together.

Oh and btw next year the "gas guzzling POS that they're known for now" are going to come with DOD which is going to give them mileage in the range of a mid sized sedan.
Posted by VaribleX (2 comments )
Link Flag
best idea
"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,"

I don't get how wireless would reduce pollution. But overall, I think this is probably the best idea from GM ever. As long as the onboard computers, and the wireless thing doesn't operate on a Microsoft OS, we're all safe. :)
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Posted by Roman12 (214 comments )
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great idea
If all car makers follow GM's move, that will be making driving safer.

Wireless tech has a lots of potential for car makers. One application I can think of is to enable voice communication between a group of cars. This will make driving easier when a group of cars need to drive together.

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Posted by tzhang2 (3 comments )
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Oh goody!
Your own car spies on you,what a wonderful tool, just what every police force in the world needs and wishes for,a self incriminating car!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
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A computer can stop my car? yeah because a computer can sense everything thats going on around us... if people got off their cell phones and paid attention to the damn road and also perhaps we had some people not speed, tailgate and drive aggressively, people wouldnt dream up stupid technology like this
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
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Build Better US Cars!
All this technology is great, but what we need is better-built, more reliable cars from GM and Ford. The current crop is not attracting new buyers. Instead, they buy foreign brands.
Posted by Des Alba (68 comments )
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we all suck
We Americans all suck we are busy supporting the whole world and keep on buying imported goods. Why can't we concentrate on buying only USA made goods or atleast made by US companies.
Posted by Joelieb1234 (8 comments )
Link Flag
Perhaps fatal wishful thinking....
... with the almost non-existant car maintenance now practiced by
drivers, few cars will have functioning electronics systems. This
concept is aircraft level technology and demands competent users.
The current drivers are not that competent.

The only hope is that the equipment must be fully functional before
the car can move. Further, the driver must also be fully functional.
somehow, I foresee a large increase in pedestrians and parked cars.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
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