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Look Who's Talking Now: Smart Cars
September 12, 2012
Motor vehicle crashes are the largest single public health crisis in the United States. But the August launch of a year-long test of "smart car" technology conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) is designed to save lives and reduce injuries among American motorists.
UMTRI is piloting a study to assess the future of car technology. This first-of-its-kind effort is testing a Wi-Fi-like technology that allows vehicles and highway infrastructure to communicate with each other; the goal is to help reduce crashes and improve traffic congestion.
Talk Amongst Yourselves
Safety Pilot Model Deployment, a $22 million partnership between UMTRI and the U.S. Department of Transportation, is part of a joint research initiative led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to see how well wireless communication technology works in the real world. It is the largest connected-vehicle, street-level pilot project ever conducted.
As part of the study, some 3,000 vehicles have been outfitted with wireless communication devices. As a result, these passenger cars, commercial trucks, and transit buses can "talk" to each other, as well as to traffic lights and other road signals located at intersections, curves, and highway sites throughout a test-pilot area in northeast Ann Arbor.
The connected vehicle technology involves both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications that transmit and receive vehicle data such as position, speed, and direction. Drivers are alerted to a potential crash situation—such as a nearby vehicle unexpectedly braking, a sudden lane change, merging traffic, etc.—by a visual or audible warning inside their vehicles.
"This is a game-changer for transportation. There are many safety and convenience applications to this, as well as applications related to mobility and sustainability," says program manager Jim Sayer, an associate research scientist at UMTRI. "This is a tremendous opportunity, and we are very excited to be able to support the USDOT's demonstration of cutting-edge transportation technologies in our community."
UMTRI Director Peter Sweatman describes the groundbreaking project as emblematic of the institute's charter to deliver and deploy solutions to critical transportation issues. "It is just one example of our leadership in the area of safety and sustainability research," he says. "This technology has the ability to address as much as 80 percent of crashes of unimpaired drivers and greatly reduce carbon emissions. We also believe connected vehicle technology will influence new economy startups and innovation into the existing industrial base."
Driving Job Growth
The data generated and archived as part of the project will be used to inform future regulatory and policy decisions by the USDOT. It also will be made available to the transportation industry for use in developing additional approaches to vehicle safety, mobility, and environmental sustainability. The testing phase will last one year, but the overall program will operate for 30 months.
"This is a big moment for automotive safety," says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "This cutting-edge technology offers real promise for improving both the safety and efficiency of our roads. That is a winning combination for drivers across America."
"The technological advances in today's vehicles are improving the lives of citizens and making products designed and produced in Michigan more competitive in the marketplace," says Gov. Rick Snyder. "The connected vehicle technologies being developed in partnership with the automotive industry and our universities provides great opportunity to create high-tech, high-paying jobs here in Michigan."