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What's the future of so-called talking cars?: Next Big Thing

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Next Big Thing: What's the future of so-called talking cars?

5:56 /

Brian Cooley discusses a new wireless technology, dedicated short range communication (DSRC), that will make it possible for cars to make each other aware of their position, speed, and direction.

Perhaps you've heard the recent buzz about so-called talking cars? Just got a tour of the lab where auto makers and government researchers team up to create new technologies that help cars communicate with the world around them, and with each other. They can tell you if an oncoming vehicle is about to run a red light. Or where if the car's coming around a blind corner or if the detour would help you save some time and gas. [MUSIC] This gives cars a three hundred and sixty degrees awareness of nearby vehicles. Common navigation systems are not precise enough. We needed a localization that can give us exact position on a centimeter base. The system call also alert drivers to approaching emergency vehicles. If a crash is detected, emergency crews can be dispatched, drivers can be diverted immediately to alternate routes. Each traffic light has to be correctly identified under all weather and lighting conditions. This car is stopped. The car two vehicles behind it can't tell because of traffic in the middle. But, thanks to vehicle-to-vehicle communication, the driver in the back gets a warning to brake, even though he couldn't have seen it humanly. [MUSIC] The technology is called DSRC, Dedicated Short Range Communications. It gives vehicles a new built-in radio, if you will, that operates in the 5.9 gigahertz band, and allows them to communicate to each other in a very specific way. To tell each other where they are, the direction they're heading, and the speed they're going. It's largely focused on preventing accidents. ABI Research, for example, predicts that about 10% of new cars shipping will have DSRC by 2018. And that goes up to 70% by 2027. Some pretty good numbers. In the United States, as of February, 2014, the Department of Transportation announced that it will announce a pending date soon, by which all new cars must ship with DSRC radios enabled. The goal 70 to 80% reduction in accidents. In Europe it's even more ambitions, their looking for a 100% accident free zone by 2050 thanks to the SRC. But specifically how will these DSRC enabled talking cars. To get to those lofty goals. Well, let's consider some of the scenarios that have been tested at the University of Michigan's Safety Pilot program in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Intersections: cars in all four directions would signal their position and proceeding movement to each other to avoid collisions, T-bones and right-of-way screw-ups. Rear end collisions, the DSRC equipped car in front of you would always tell your DRSC equipped car that it's stopping, and how fast it's doing so. Passing oncoming cars will signal their direction and closing speed to your car. So you'd always know when it's mathematically to try and pass ending the crude white-knuckle guesses that human drivers make all the time. Pedestrians and bikes. DSRC radios could also be pocketable, or even integrated into future smart phones to make pedestrians and bikes part of this crash avoidance scenario as well. Now all of the above can be manifested in two major ways. Active and passive technology. Active technology means the information from DSRC is sent to the car's computers, which control braking, acceleration, and even steering, to automatically avoid a collision. [INAUDIBLE] Passive, of course, merely gives the driver indications on the dash about what's about to happen that they want to avoid to alert them to do so. The nice thing about passive is it could conceivably be retrofitted to millions of cars already on the road. Now, beyond the enormous accident reduction goal, there's another benefit to DSRC and that is increases efficiency of fuel consumption and roadway usage. Through several means. The first of which is to communicate traffic phase and timing to cars. The DSRC information would tell the car how long the current traffic light color will be in effect, and when it will change, allowing the ar to adjust its trajectory for best traffic flow, fuel usage, and momentum conservation. And linking, where our private cars would form, on the freeway for example, little ad-hoc road trains. Following each other as little as maybe three feet, nose to tail. Which makes vastly better use of the existing road infrastructure we have. And also could gain some nice aerodynamic benefits for the cars in that train. Now, the hurdles. First of all, we're talking about the car industry here. So you know proprietary is part of the game. that needs to be overcome because DSRC is one of those things that will benefit most. By working out spectrum, bandwidth, and coding to be global and universal in markets around the world. Spectrum, DSRC in cars is in a bit of a spectrum battle with another technology innovation called U-NII where wireless carriers want to open up a lot more wi-fi that they would use for smartphones to move their data traffic to, but it's also in that 5.9 gigahertz ban. Automakers don't like the idea of sharing any wireless space with another service like that. They're afraid it's gonna lead to breakdowns in cars keeping themselves safe. They don't like the liability or the bad pr that could come from that. For their part, the wireless carriers say: look, we could learn to work with you and make sure that our wireless traffic always yields to automotive traffic to make that top priority. The FCC's gonna have to decide that one. Infrastructure, maybe of DSRC's benefits like traffic signal phase and timing would require traffic signal and control center upgrades by perennially broke municipalities. There's the fleet issue. DSRC is gonna work best when virtually all cars have it. But we have a half a billion cars already on the road in the US and the EU alone that don't have it. It will take decades, or generations, to turn them over. DSRC's often described as a moon shot, and that's not overstating it. It would dramatically change the relationship between cars on the road, towards the goad of safety as well as efficiency of road use and fuel consumption. And it would certainly do a much better job then almost all scenarios of the often bored, distracted, ill trained, or drunk vague ware we know as the. The human driver. [MUSIC]

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