No one really likes a backseat driver, right? That’s mostly because the person tends to provide nothing useful to your driving experience. But what if the information you received could actually warn you of a potential collision with another vehicle or some other road hazard?
Ford is now the first automaker to build a functional prototype that demonstrates how intelligent vehicles of the future (and experts think that could be the near future) could talk to each other in real time through Wi-Fi and GPS to help reduce crashes.
Wireless communication could also lead to a more sustainable transportation system. Think of it like this: When there’s an accident, it creates congestion. That results in billions of gallons of fuel wasted each year, not to mention the time you’re wasting while sitting in traffic. In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) filed a report on the potential safety benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and it estimated that intelligent vehicles could help in as many as 4.3 million police-reported light-vehicle crashes annually – or about 81 percent of all light-vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers.
Unlike radar-based safety features, which spot hazards in the driver’s line of sight, an advanced Wi-Fi–based radio system allows a full-range, 360-degree detection of potentially dangerous situations, particularly useful when the driver’s vision is obstructed. Intelligent vehicles would talk wirelessly through the Wi-Fi signals, or dedicated short-range communications, on a secured channel allocated by the Federal Communications Commission.
For example, you could be alerted if your vehicle is headed for a collision at an intersection, when a vehicle ahead stops or slows suddenly or when a traffic pattern changes on a busy highway. The system also could warn you of a risk of collision when changing lanes, approaching a stationary or parked vehicle or if another driver loses control. And traffic could be avoided through a network of intelligent vehicles and infrastructure that would process real-time traffic and road information to allow drivers to opt for a less congested route. You know how kids these days don’t really grasp how people used typewriters before the advent of computers? Imagine a world where the word “traffic” would be old-timey.
After a decade of research, Ford announced earlier this year an accelerated development of its intelligent vehicle work, doubling its research investment and convening a new 20-member task force – consisting of company planners, engineers and scientists from around the world with expertise in safety, eco-mobility, infotainment and driver conveniences. Ford engineers are currently researching and developing future applications that will offer more than visual warnings to drivers – priming safety systems and taking accident avoidance measures in response to warnings from other intelligent vehicles.
There’s more exciting progress: Ford is partnering with other automakers and the federal government, as well as local and county road commissions, to create a common language that ensures all vehicles can talk to each other based on a common communication standard. This public-private partnership will include the world’s first government-sponsored driving clinics beginning in summer 2011, for which the company will contribute two prototype Ford Taurus sedans. The Department of Transportation (DOT) Intelligent Transportation Systems will head the research, continuing to coordinate with a coalition of automakers organized by the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP), which is a joint research group headed by Ford and General Motors. The partnership is working to develop interoperability standards in advance of completing the research phase in 2013.
“Ford has laid the groundwork to give vehicles a voice with SYNC and Wi-Fi technology,” said Jim Vondale, Director, Ford Automotive Safety Office. “Now we’re working with other automakers and government leaders worldwide to develop common standards globally to bring intelligent vehicles to market quicker and more affordably.”
Many of the current technologies from Ford show how intelligent vehicles will be able to help drivers, such as the collision warning with brake support and Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®) with cross-traffic alert rely on radar sensors to detect vehicles or objects close to the vehicle. By mutually sharing information on vehicle position, speed, direction of travel and even telemetry from technologies such as the Electronic Stability Program or the Traction Control System, connected vehicles could be warned.
“Ford has pioneered connectivity in modern vehicles with SYNC,” said Mike Shulman, Technical Leader, Ford Research and Innovation. “We believe advanced Wi-Fi for intelligent vehicles could be added to smartphones or GPS systems and simply connect to SYNC like today’s phones.”