The networked car is no longer just an idea; it will be mandated in future vehicles


For the last two years, automakers and the U.S. Department of Transportation have been investigating the idea of cars talking to once another, putting thousands of Wi-Fi connected smart vehicles on a track in at the University of Michigan to see if they could cooperate with another and avoid accidents. Apparently the feds are convinced that the technology is ready for prime-time because on Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it is kicking off a process that will one day make inter-networking a requirement in all new vehicles.

The technology is called vehicle-to-vehicle communications, or V2V for short, and NHTSA is billing it as a safety technology similar to seat belts and airbags. A car that can communicate its intentions, can let other vehicles know if it’s slamming on its brakes or just turned on its blinker, signaling a lane change. Drivers could then react to those cues, helping them avoid potential accidents.

Vehicle networking technologies developed by Cohda Wireless would let cars "see" around corners

Vehicle networking technologies developed by Cohda Wireless would let cars “see” around corners

But the V2V and it’s sister technology vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) could evolve into something much greater. Instead of using the familiar Wi-Fi technologies we have in our homes and smartphones, cars would use a new flavor of Wi-Fi called 802.11p, which allows for long-range secure transmissions between vehicles. What’s the more 802.11p would allow those cars to form gigantic mesh networks. So interworked cars wouldn’t just be talking to their neighbors, but vehicles miles down the road and the highway and traffic systems around them.

When combined with autonomous driving technologies like those being developed by Google, you get something really powerful. Cars not only would be able to see their surroundings through Lidar, cameras and other sensors, they’d be able to tap a kind of road hive mind. They could communicate not just their locations and immediate plans (i.e. turning left) but their ultimate destinations. Cars could then coordinate driving in configurations that let the most people get to their destination in the fastest way.

The Ford Fusion research vehicle from Lidar's point of view

The Ford Fusion research vehicle from Lidar’s point of view

Of course, this kind of advanced autonomous, collaborative driving won’t be seen on the road for many years, but regulators have to start somewhere. Said NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman in a statement:

“V2V crash avoidance technology has game-changing potential to significantly reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths on our nation’s roads. Decades from now, it’s likely we’ll look back at this time period as one in which the historical arc of transportation safety considerably changed for the better, similar to the introduction of standards for seat belts, airbags, and electronic stability control technology.”

The next step is the publication in coming weeks of an official report on the automotive industry’s V2V trials in Michigan and an analysis of the technology’s feasibility. After a public comment period, NHTSA and the Department of Transportation will propose regulations that would require V2V communications in all new U.S. light vehicles sold after a still unspecified future year. If all goes as plan Obama would issue those new requirements as an executive order before leaving office in 2017.

The networked car and the information it collects will be a key topic at Gigaom’s Structure:Data conference next month in New York City. Ford Motor Company data scientist Michael Cavaretti will discuss how the automaker puts Big Data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to task to analyze the data our cars collect.

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