A vehicle that's so safe, nobody will die in it? New technologies are bringing us ever closer to that goal.
Vehicle communication networks
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is another important step on the road to the zero-fatality car. The more a vehicle knows about other cars (and the roadway), the better it can react and avoid a danger.
Telematics services such as GM's OnStar and Mercedes' mbrace today use CDMA cellular and GPS signals to communicate vehicle status, including automatic collision notification, to a central location and provide other services such as roadside assistance and remote door lock or unlock. It's easy to see how these services could be expanded to allow vehicles to communicate with one another, although neither company has announced specific plans to do so.
Mike Shulman, technical leader for advanced engineering at Ford, says his company is moving from passive safety features that protect passengers during a crash to active safety features that can prevent crashes altogether. This means the car will still be made from safe materials and provide airbags and other protections, but it will also actively search for dangers, partly by communicating with other cars and partly by communicating with the road infrastructure, including signs, traffic lights and parking lots.
Pulaski says most automakers have shifted to the active safety approach. For example, just about every car manufacturer now has some form of stabilisation control that checks for uneven tire speed and whether the car is at an angle, and keeps the vehicle level to prevent it from overturning. The next step, Pulaski says, is for this stabilisation state to be communicated to other cars.
To help spur innovation, the Federal Communications Commission in 2002 approved the use of the Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) 5.9-GHz spectrum in the US for both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure signals. In 2009, the US Department of Transportation launched the IntelliDrive research program, in which auto manufacturers, in cooperation with federal and state government agencies, are developing standards for the wireless signals and figuring out how to use them in cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is scheduled to review the program's recommendations in 2013 and decide whether to approve IntelliDrive technology for deployment.
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