Is the World Ready for “Talking” Cars?

A future government mandate requiring cars to have technology that would let them “talk” to each other could lead to safer vehicles and fewer crashes. But automotive groups say there's a danger of literally crossed signals.

The next generation of cars won’t drive themselves, but they might be smart enough to stop before things get too dangerous.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx this week announced his department’s intention to propose a final rule on getting so-called talking cars on the road “before this administration closes its doors” in January 2017, according to Politico.

Requiring vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology in future cars could prove a huge boon to safety as more of those models hit the road. But it also could create complications for auto industry players.

“Revolutionary for Roadway Safety”

V2V technology relies on wireless signals to relay safety messages to nearby cars about 10 times per second. Other cars’ V2V devices use the data stream to identify potential traffic hazards. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration analyses, the communications show the potential to be helpful in about 80 percent of crash scenarios involving drivers who aren’t impaired, such as those at intersections or that happen while changing lanes. In-vehicle warnings would alert motorists to hazards such as cars in the driver’s blind spot or vehicles ahead that brake suddenly. V2V systems also could warn drivers that they are entering a school zone or that an upcoming traffic light is about to change.

Testing already has borne fruit. A yearlong testing phase conducted in Ann Arbor, Michigan, ended in summer 2013  and involved more than 3,000 vehicles. It showed that the technology could work effectively in the real world, NHTSA noted.

Though the start date for a new requirement would be years down the road, the agency says the technology could usher in an unprecedented level of safety on the road.

“The results could be nothing short of revolutionary for roadway safety,” acting NHTSA chief David Friedman said Monday, according to Politico. “I believe this V2V technology will amount to an advance in roadway transportation matched only by the development of the interstate highway system itself. This is that important of a moment in time.”

Politico notes that the technology’s industry support is fairly robust. While adding a V2V system would raise the price of a car by roughly $100 to $300—though Kelley Blue Book tells Bloomberg that price is dropping—the value could very much be worth it for most consumers.

Automakers Warn of Mixed Signals

One thing that could hold back the technology is the question of exactly how much access third-party systems would have to the infrastructure.

Two key automotive groups say that outside wireless interference could endanger motorists—which is why the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has suggested that the portion of the wireless spectrum that V2V systems would use be designated specifically for cars.

Michael Stanton, president and CEO of the Association of Global Automakers, told Bloomberg that the industry might have to work with tech firms on the issue. “Communication delays of even thousandths of a single second matter when dealing with auto and highway safety,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Telecommunications Industry Association, which has long supported the development of V2V systems, noted that the need for more wireless access will have to be addressed.

“We look forward to working with the FCC and other federal agencies to determine how other low-power unlicensed technologies such as WiFi can share this radio spectrum,” the group said in a statement. “Indeed, TIA member company interest and participation in the intelligent transportation sector, including connected and autonomous vehicles, has never been stronger.”

(USDOT photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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