No, the powers that be in Hollywood aren’t rebooting Knight Rider again. Automobiles are slated to be the next home gadget to get an intelligence upgrade. Next generation “Smart” Cars, promised to the American public for over a decade, are finally entering the final phase of testing. These vehicles will be wired to communicate with each other and may help drivers avoid accidents.
Researchers in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who have been working on the designs for the smart car for years, have high hopes that they can greatly diminish the incidence of accidents on the road by enabling wireless communication between vehicles. This novel concept has been put into practice near the Motor City and will soon get its first true road test.
This week, smart car researchers made their grand announcement at the University of Michigan to a room filled with engineering professors and students alike. On Tuesday they proposed to launch a yearlong trial of the new smart car communication technology aimed at preventing car accidents. Early reports out of the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor hypothesize that smart cars have the potential to reduce car accidents between two unimpaired drivers by upwards of 80% – a drastic reduction that could mean thousands of spared lives every year. Car accident lawyers in Toronto and everywhere else may have to look for a new line of work.
The technology embedded in these smart cars is actually far easier to understand than it was to develop. Automotive engineers placed wireless devices inside of 3,000 road-ready vehicles. These vehicles range from two-door passenger trucks to giant commercial trucks and buses. The wireless devices use basic transmitting technology to instantly share information with other smart cars on the road. Smart cars in close proximity to one another send and receive data about location, magnitude and direction of velocity and momentum. These amazing vehicles can also communicate with traffic signals, road signs, intersections, curves in the road and other geographical features. Several sites in and around the Ann Arbor base of operations have been wired with similar transmitters to create a fully interactive environment.
The communication devices relay information through the car’s central CPU and alert the driver whenever a potentially hazardous situation arises. In the event that vehicle nearby swerves or slams on its brakes, the smart car can actually lead the driver safely around the obstacle by adding precious seconds to a typical human response time.
The smart car uses both visual and audible warning signs to alert the driver to impending hazards.
“This is a game changer for transportation,” program manager and associate researcher Jim Sayer said at U Mich. “There are many safety and convenience applications to this, as well as applications related to mobility and sustainability.”
The Ann Arbor team isn’t the only cabal of tech junkies trying to change the way we drive, however. An elite team at Google has also been developing a smart car of sorts – only this one actually drives itself. The director of the search giant’s self-driving car project said his ambitious company plans to bring autonomous cars to market by the end of the decade.