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Summary:

Once everyone has a smartphone, it’s clear that if you want to know where someone is, you just have to find their phone. GM is counting on that, testing a wireless pedestrian system in vehicles that uses Wi-Fi Direct to detect and avoid walkers and bicyclists.

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While only an estimated 16 percent of the 7 billion people on the planet carry a smartphone today, it’s looking inevitable that most, if not all, of the world’s population will have one at some point. In that case, if you know where a smartphone is, you have a good idea where the smartphone’s owner is. General Motors is counting on that by testing a wireless pedestrian detection system, in hopes of giving drivers more time to avoid potentially hitting a person.

Although both cars and smartphones are filled with sensors, the solution GM is testing doesn’t need any of them. Instead, GM is banking on wireless connectivity; specifically the Wi-Fi Direct standard. Conceptually, cars would be actively looking for Wi-Fi Direct smartphones — and the owners of those devices — and could signal an imminent collision in advance by comparing the two signals up to 656 feet apart.

The concept is similar to Ford’s own vehicle detection system that uses a different Wi-Fi standard, 802.11p, to help cars detect each other. These Wi-Fi implementations work without access points on a peer-to-peer basis, so they can be used anywhere. Pedestrians will of course need to keep their Wi-Fi radio active on their smartphones for GM’s solution to work but I don’t think that will be an issue.

Wi-Fi generally uses less battery life than mobile broadband radios, for one thing. And we’re clearly moving towards heterogeneous networks — or hetnets — with seamless Wi-Fi offload from traditional cellular networks.

  1. Great way to turn a new risk to pedestrians and drivers into a solution!

  2. So, what would happen if I threw a cellphone at a car with this system in place?

    1. Kevin C. Tofel Eric Sunday, July 29, 2012

      You’d probably break your phone and maybe a car window? ;)

  3. This might work well in a sparsely-populated area, but downtown, the sheer number of smartphone alerts will cause drivers to start ignoring them

  4. Based on my recent experience in Tucson, I’d say that the only way to cut down on car-related deaths of people who dare to move around town while not enclosed in a metal box is to start charging and convicting motorists who currently run down the walkers, bicyclists, and motorcyclists with minimal consequences.

  5. Does this mean that smartphones would have to reliably operate over the full automotive temperature range?

  6. This is a stupid solution on many levels. What if the person’s phone is dead? What if Wi-Fi is not on? What if the phone is turned off? What if the person has a dumb phone? What if the person forgot to bring their phone with them? The list goes on.

    Instead, do what Volvo is already offering: PEDESTRIAN DETECTION, and not this stupid “PHONE WI-FI DETECTION” crap. Volvo’s design also detects any objects (including another car, say, stopped at a red light and the driver is too distracted to stop) in front / sides of the car and applies the brakes.

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