Cars: Wireless networks; smarter, safer infrastructure


Wheaton, IL —Gather a group of engineers to consider new ways to improve automotive safety, navigation, and maintenance, and ideas speed around the room. Automation and wireless network technologies inside and outside vehicles can help with these applications, according to recent discussions at the IEEE Fox Valley Subsection meeting on the topic, 'The Networked Car: Technology and Use Case Drivers,' a presentation from Paul Bocci, fellow of the technical staff, Motorola Inc.

Bocci welcomed conversation during and after the presentation to some 50 engineers. For Motorola, Bocci focuses communications between vehicles to support safety applications. Many concepts covered could be applied to almost any operator-guided or semi-automated piece of complex machinery with sensors, logic, and wireless connections.

What's needed to bring about this envisioned higher state of automotive safety using interactive networks? Bocci told Control Engineering after the Feb. 28 meeting at Illinois Institute of Technology Rice Campus that demonstrations showing how wireless networks can augment automotive safety and convenience would help, as would proof of value to automakers and policymakers. As Bocci described, it's possible that wireless and other automation technologies, beyond increasing convenience, could save the U.S. a portion of the $250 billion approximate annual economic cost of automobile accidents, he suggests.

With appropriate communication infrastructure and onboard technologies, most automobiles ultimately could:

  • Notify drivers about safe routes around dangerous areas and notify salt trucks or maintenance crews of slippery spots or potholes.

  • Interact with traffic lights to avoid collisions (help a light not turn green, for instance, if a driver seems unable to stop for red).

  • Give location data to improve traffic-light timing in real-time to reduce congestion.

  • Schedule maintenance as needed and notify the driver about those needs (some vehicles are approaching this, such as the GM OnStar system).

  • Stop the vehicle before a front-end collision would occur (Cadillac has demonstrated the feature) or stabilize the car to help prevent skidding during emergency maneuvers (several vehicles offer this).

  • Alert the driver of parking locations, reserve a space and pay (in some cities up to 30% of congestion at certain times of day relate to vehicles seeking parking spaces).

  • Drastically decrease distance between vehicles on highways, allowing safe, high-speed travel, merging, accident avoidance, and greater throughput without additional infrastructure (more lanes). On a busy Chicago area highway, with about 2,000 vehicles per mile, approximately 500 would need to interact with each other or surroundings at any given moment, Bocci says.

  • Detect pedestrians , other vehicles, surface friction, impending weather, and emergency vehicles.

  • Drive themselves . (A Lexus can now parallel park itself using sonar and other automation. DARPA urban challenge autonomous vehicle challenge moved from prior races in the desert.)

Because many issues cut across a wide number of areas and jurisdictions, expanding the initiatives will require resolution of many technology and policy-related questions.

Various related efforts are underway:

Bocci offers the wireless automotive network presentation in a 14-slide PDF courtesy of the IEEE Fox Valley subsection site.

—Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Mark T. Hoske , editor in chief

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