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Automakers Want Vehicles Talk to Each Other

"Intelligent vehicle" systems could save lives.

by on Jan.27, 2011

Listen up! A signal from another "Intelligent Vehicle" alerts a motorist to hidden dangers ahead.

While auto regulators might be pushing to get motorists to hang up their cellphones and concentrate on driving, they’re encouraging efforts to get cars to talk to one another.

A consortium of eight manufacturers has set up shop in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills to work on car-to-car “Intelligent Vehicle” communications systems that would help stave off accidents.  Such technology could, for example, be used by one car to make sure it won’t run into another passing through an intersection.  A vehicle experiencing black ice might also flash the alert to other nearby automobiles.

“If every car had it, it would be like another pair of eyes,” Ford Motor Co.’s Mike Shulman, a technical research leader, said prior to the demonstration of a prototype system by four makers at this week’s auto show in Washington, D.C.

The technology would work to supplement, rather than replace, other high-tech safety systems, noted the Detroit News, which attended the preview.  But it could add information unavailable using such advanced systems as radar or laser.  For example, a car well ahead in traffic might broadcast an alert if its driver were to jam on the brakes.

At highway speeds, even a 1 second delay is the equivalent of driving about 100 feet, or more than five car lengths – enough to make the difference between a safe stop and a collision.

While manufacturers like Ford have been working on car-to-car communications systems for a number of years, the consortium reflects the fact that vehicles from different brands must be able to speak the same digital language.

“We need to get messages from Hondas, Hyundais, Kias and send them all messages,” said Shulman.

Each of the eight makers will build eight new vehicles each equipped with the latest technology.  Another 2,000 vehicles on the road will be retrofitted with the gear as part of a test program partially funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Such technology could offer several other advantages, according to industry experts.  It might allow motorists to “convoy,” close ranks to distances not considered safe under normal conditions, but which would allow far more vehicles to pack onto crowded highways during rush hour.

Transportation experts suggest Intelligent Vehicle systems could also move cars closer to an era of autonomous driving, where motorists would simply plug in a destination and settle back — texting or cellphoning or reading the paper, for that matter, since the vehicle itself would handle the driving duties.

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