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The future of auto safety is seat belts, airbags and network technology

Brandon Butler | May 24, 2016
How networking is ushering in a new era of car safety and why a world of connected cars is a safer one.

The 1950s saw the introduction of automobile seat belts; in the 70s, airbags began showing up in cars. Electronic Stability Controlled rolled out in the late 80s, and the last decade has seen the deployment of radar and camera-based backup assist and blind-spot warning systems.

Auto safety experts say network technology could be the next major car safety innovation. “Decades from now, it's likely we'll look back at this time period as one in which the historical arc of transportation safety considerably changed for the better, similar to the introduction of standards for seat belts, airbags, and electronic stability control technology," said David Freedman, administrator for the National High Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) in 2014.

Car manufacturers, technology companies and federal regulators have worked for almost two decades to develop vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, which Freedman calls “game-changing” technology that allows cars to digitally communicate with one another to avoid accidents. In 2013, there were an estimated 5,687,000 police-reported traffic crashes in which 32,719 people were killed and 2,313,000 people were injured, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. NHTSA says V2V technology could help avoid 70% to 80% of car accidents each year.

But for all the promise of V2V, debates rage on about how exactly to implement this technology.

The road to V2V

The vision for V2V is to have a network of connected cars talking to each other, broadcasting their position, speed and status of the brakes up to 10 times per second. Vehicles would read this information about other cars on the road to calculate potential crash risks and be alerted to hazardous conditions. The car would alert the driver, or automatically engage an action, such as stopping. The same technology could power Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) communication, allowing cars to communicate with traffic signals to inform drivers of how much longer a light will be green, for example. Some believe this technology could be a precursor to self-driving vehicles.

There are flavors of this functionality on the market today. Many new cars on the market come with blind spot warning, forward collision detection and cars will be mandated to have rear back-up assist beginning this year. These systems use either radar or cameras to determine the vehicle’s surroundings.

But Sam Abuelsamid, a senior researcher at Navigant Research, says radar and camera systems are limited by their line of sight. “V2V can extend ‘visibility’ beyond line-of-sight to vehicles further down the road,” making it applicable in dangerous blind intersections or to detect accidents further up the road that the driver does not see, he notes. “The primary advantage is reduced latency and response times since information can be transmitted even before a change can be detected by the sensors.”

 

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