It may come as news to some, but cars will likely drive themselves in the not-too-distant future. Not because it allows distracted drivers to do all kinds of stuff besides driving… but because it’s safer and has the potential to reduce and perhaps even eliminate accidents.
But before we get to that point, cars need to be able to talk to each other, as well as to the comprehensive infrastructure at large. The kind of technology that will permit full- and even semi-automated cars will require testing, refinement, and standardization — and to that end, General Motors is helping a pilot program the results of which could eventually give rise to the wide-scale deployment of technology that would enable the reality of a truly connected car.
In that regard, The General is providing eight Buick and Cadillac cars for a year of real-world testing; the cars are equipped with production-viable integrated systems that have the ability to send and receive information from other vehicles and to warn drivers when a potential collision is detected. Called vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology, it gives vehicles the ability of sending to and receiving from other vehicles basic information such as location, speed, and direction of travel. And it’s the wide-scale deployment of this kind of technology that is necessary for cars to become less dependent on their (human) drivers, and more on the traffic situation around them.
The other piece of the (truly) connected and aware car is vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology, which shares information about traffic signal phase, road attributes and surface conditions. The Buicks and Cadillacs provided by GM are part of a bigger fleet of passenger cars, commercial trucks, and transit vehicles involved in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment Program (say that five times fast!), which is being conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The purpose of the program is to determine the effectiveness of V2V and V2I safety technologies at reducing car accidents, with the data collected by the fleet of vehicles in the program to be used by the NHTSA in late 2013, the analysis of which potentially resulting in a wide-scale deployment of V2V technology before the end of the decade.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority, and this research could save lives and prevent injuries across America,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a transportation department press release about the project. “With more than 30,000 people a year killed on our nation’s roads, we need to keep looking for new ways to improve safety and reduce fatalities.”
Both V2V and V2I tech can result in the reduction of traffic collisions and congestion while being integrated with active safety features such as forward collision warning and side blind zone alert systems, both of which are already available today in many production cars such as the Cadillac XTS, for instance.
“Participating in this program will help GM and our research partners gain a more accurate, detailed understanding of V2V and V2I’s potential safety benefits,” said Nady Boules, GM Global R&D director of the Electrical and Control Systems Research Lab. “It is essential that common standards and security framework be established for V2V and V2I technologies so that vehicles from different automakers can communicate and interoperate with each other in a consistent manner.”
As part of the V2I aspect of the program, 37 lane-miles of the Ann Arbor roadway have been rigged with 29 roadside equipment installations. The USDOT chose Ann Arbor due to its healthy mix of driving-related characteristics, including traffic mix, variety of roadway types and characteristics, seasonal weather, along with the obvious proximity to vehicle manufacturers and suppliers.
“This program will help GM determine a timeline for introducing V2V technology on our vehicles, globally, in the second half of this decade,” said Hariharan Krishnan, GM R&D technical fellow for Perception and Vehicle Control Systems. “It will take approximately another five years of market penetration for customers to truly benefit from the technology. Ultimately, V2V and V2I technologies stand to improve traffic safety and efficiency for many drivers.”
The GM Authority Take
I’m not particularly looking forward to the day that cars do the driving for me… but if this will prevent, or better — eliminate, accidents, then I’m all for it. And if this is the way of the future, it’s also nice to see GM on the leading edge of the research. Now, how about those connected Chevy EN-Vs…