GM develops mobile technology that watches road ahead

Communicates with other vehicles, surrounding infrastructure and pedestrians to warn driver about potholes, construction zones, cyclists


New technology being developed by General Motors researchers could alert drivers of potentially dangerous driving situations in advance by using small, portable devices to create a wireless safety net. 

These portable devices are designed to gather information from other vehicles and infrastructure to warn drivers about slowed or stalled vehicles, hard-braking drivers, slippery roads, sharp curves and upcoming stop signs and intersections.

Instead of minimizing a collision once it occurs, as most safety systems do today, these new technologies could help prevent crashes altogether.

This technology, known as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems could help avert nearly 81 percent of all U.S. vehicle crashes, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“These safety systems could provide a significant leap in automotive safety, but their effectiveness goes up dramatically as more people use them,” said Don Grimm, senior researcher for GM’s Perception and Vehicle Control Systems group. “By putting the technology into portable devices, we could make this potentially life-saving technology widely available and more affordable.”

GM has been testing the technology in two mobile platforms: a transponder about the size of a GPS unit and a smartphone application that can be tied to the vehicle’s display unit.

GM showcased the technology at the recent Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress.

The portable transponder has its own display screen. For the smartphone application, GM engineers can connect the smartphone to the vehicle’s audio and video display systems to seamlessly integrate notifications into the automobile.

The embedded system, portable transponder and smartphone technologies all use Dedicated Short-Range Communications, or DSRC, to transfer data between devices and have a communication range of about one-quarter of a mile in all directions. The DSRC radio can send and receive messages with other vehicles in the area, as well as communicate with fixed radios connected to traffic signals or construction zones.

These systems can provide critical information using basic location data. For example, if the driver at the head of a string of vehicles applies the brakes, those that follow can automatically get an alert. Two vehicles approaching an intersection can warn each other before the drivers can see each other.

When fully connected to the automobile’s computer system, these devices also can relay information already being collected by sensors throughout the automobile. The sensors that activate electronic stability control, for example, could alert drivers in other vehicles about hazardous road conditions ahead.

As an added benefit, the smartphones have the potential to be used by pedestrians and bicyclists, who could download a special application to let drivers know their location. The technology could help prevent vehicle-to-vehicle collisions and also reduce the number of collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists.

“The technology we’re testing right now is a viable solution for providing crucial safety information to drivers,” Grimm said. “Instead of just seeing what’s right in front of them, drivers will be able to know about the truck a quarter-mile ahead that’s stalled in their lane. Later this decade, smartphones, transponders and embedded systems could be working together to make our roadways safer.”

GM is working on embedding these communications systems into new vehicles, but with the average age of U.S. vehicles at 10.2 years, according to Polk, GM researchers also have been focusing on finding ways to retrofit automobiles already on the road.

 

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