Car conversations

Jon Reid
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Talking cars are a reality. Not like you might think though. Rather than talking to you, vehicles in the near future will be conversing with each other.

A yearlong pilot program for vehicle to vehicle (V2V) technology has been completed in Michigan. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently completed its analysis of the data gathered during this program.

The program involved close to 3,000 vehicles including buses, cars and trucks, all equipped with V2V devices. Through information gathered via wireless technology, these devices tracked the similarly equipped vehicles’ location and speed at a rate of up to 10 times per second. Experimentation is also being performed on tracking the position of nearby cellular signals as a method of pedestrian recognition.

Better than seatbelts and airbags

The applications of this information are plentiful. In one case, drivers could be alerted of potential traffic congestion based on the location data.

The safety administration has also stated that the exchange of basic safety information could reduce the number and severity of up to 80 per cent of crashes, discounting accidents involving an impaired drivers. That statistic would make this technology a better aid to vehicular safety than seat belts and airbags.

The typical issues of introducing a new technology to vehicles apply, little things like affordability. Consumer acceptance also plays a big role in successful implementations. Then there is the issue of critical mass. V2V technology will not be useful if only a small percentage of vehicles are equipped. And then, the fact that information is being exchanged and stored brings the concerns of privacy and security. The U.S. Department of Transportation has admitted that individual vehicles could be identified using this technology. But it states this would occur “only if there is a need to fix a safety problem.” It sounds like Big Brother just got his licence to drive.

Extra Internet load

You also have to consider the question of Wi-Fi bandwidth. The Internet has a finite capacity. Given the massive number of automobiles in North America, the extra load could be significant. The implications are interesting.

Imagine a traffic jam in a large city that causes congestion both on the roads and on the Internet simultaneously.

That scenario is a bit extreme, but there are bound to be unforeseen complications.

For now, V2V systems use the 5.9 GHz frequency band. This band is currently open only to licensed devices, but the Federal Communications Commission is investigating the potential of opening up that spectrum to unlicensed devices as well.

Whether or not you think the technology will make a difference, adoption rates will not be an issue if the U.S. Department of Transportation has its way. Work is underway to mandate V2V technology in all new vehicles. The plan is to have this regulation in place by early 2017. The expectation is to see a well established network of vehicles within the next 10 years.

On the flip side of the automobile technology coin, some cities, especially in Europe, are looking to improve vehicle safety statistics in a completely different way.

In particular, Hamburg, Germany is developing a plan to ban cars from the city within the next 15 to 20 years. Banning cars is part of Hamburg’s Green Network initiative.  

The Green Network project will cover 40 per cent of the city and create pedestrian and cycle paths connecting the city’s extensive green spaces.

Of course, the real purpose of the Green Network has less to do with vehicle safety than it does with reducing C02 emissions and generally making Hamburg a greener, healthier and more pleasant city to live in.

Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.

Organizations: U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Green Network Federal Communications Commission

Geographic location: Michigan, Hamburg, North America Europe Germany Corner Brook Western Star

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