November 4, 2005 1:06 PM PST
Wireless: The new backseat driver?
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.
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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