Five Technologies That Will Make Future Cars Safer

Pedes­tri­ans some­times wan­der into traf­fic. Imag­ine if their cell phones could alert oncom­ing dri­vers. In a sys­tem being test­ed by auto-parts sup­pli­er Den­so, com­put­er soft­ware in the car would receive the phone sig­nal, ana­lyze speed and direc­tion, and instant­ly deter­mine if the pedes­tri­an will cross the car’s path. That cuts down on false warn­ings. “It even can go as far as apply­ing the brakes for you,” said Doua Vang, a Den­so engi­neer­ing man­ag­er.

This life sav­ing tech­nol­o­gy, along with four oth­er life and/or time sav­ing tech­nolo­gies, are being shown this week at the Intel­li­gent Trans­port Sys­tems World Con­gress in Detroit.

• Walk­ing Safe­ly

The tech­nol­o­gy is five or more years away. Cars need receivers and radio fre­quen­cies need to be set aside by the gov­ern­ment. Send­ing out a con­stant sig­nal will quick­ly drain a cell phone bat­tery. And engi­neers are work­ing on dis­tin­guish­ing between a phone in a pedestrian’s pock­et from one held by a pas­sen­ger inside anoth­er car, Vang said. The hope is few­er pedes­tri­an deaths. In 2012, the last year for which data is avail­able, 4,473 pedes­tri­ans died in traf­fic crash­es, the high­est num­ber in five years.

• Pre­vent­ing Pile­ups

Black ice that forms sud­den­ly is often blamed for mul­ti-vehi­cle pile­ups world­wide, because dri­vers can’t stop in time. Now, state trans­porta­tion offi­cials in Neva­da, Min­neso­ta and Michi­gan are test­ing tech­nol­o­gy that can warn peo­ple when the first car hits ice. “We’re using it now,” said Steve Cook, field ser­vices engi­neer for the Michi­gan Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, who wouldn’t guess how long it will take to get all cars on the sys­tem.

Sen­sors on the vehi­cles mea­sure road sur­face tem­per­a­ture and oth­er weath­er data. They also check the pave­ment for pot­holes. The cars relay the infor­ma­tion, as well as data on loca­tion and wind­shield wiper, antilock brake and trac­tion con­trol use, to a cen­tral com­put­er that sends mes­sages telling oth­er dri­vers to slow down.

• Auto­mat­ic Brak­ing

We’ve all seen tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials adver­tis­ing fan­cy radar sys­tems that auto­mat­i­cal­ly brake a car to avoid a crash and save an inat­ten­tive dri­ver. The sys­tems are typ­i­cal­ly expen­sive options, around $3,000, on high-end lux­u­ry cars. But auto parts mak­er Aisin aims to bring the tech­nol­o­gy to main­stream cars.

The system’s cam­eras, two in the front and two in the back, can sense chil­dren, oth­er cars and even deer, and auto­mat­i­cal­ly brake the car, said Ichi­ji Yama­da, deputy gen­er­al man­ag­er of chas­sis sys­tems. Engi­neers wouldn’t reveal the price, but said Aisin is work­ing with Toy­ota to put the sys­tem on mass-mar­ket cars around 2020. The cost is low­er because of advance­ments in cam­era tech­nolo­gies.

• Traf­fic Light Alert

Bicy­cle rid­ers are often ignored by sys­tems designed to change a traf­fic light when a car arrives. A Raleigh, North Car­oli­na, com­pa­ny called Kim­ley-Horn has come up with a smart­phone app that gets cyclists noticed. It uses the phone’s GPS and sig­nals a cen­tral com­put­er via the Inter­net to turn the light green. The sys­tem will be test­ed this fall with 100 cyclists in Austin, Texas. It could go city­wide by 2016, said Kimley-Horn’s Doug Gettman. Sim­i­lar trans­mit­ters could be installed on all vehi­cles, so the com­put­er can detect them and man­age traf­fic lights, keep­ing them green for large blocks of vehi­cles, Gettman said.

• HOV Lane Mon­i­tor

Japan­ese tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny NEC wants to stop sin­gle rid­ers from cheat­ing in high-occu­pan­cy vehi­cle lanes reserved for cars with two or more peo­ple. NEC has a sys­tem of cam­eras and infrared sen­sors that records the num­ber of peo­ple in a car and the license num­ber. Isamu Suzu­ki, senior man­ag­er of busi­ness devel­op­ment, says enforce­ment is low because a lim­it­ed num­ber of humans mon­i­tor the lanes. The sys­tem can imme­di­ate­ly noti­fy police or store infor­ma­tion so traf­fic tick­ets can be sent lat­er. Due to pri­va­cy con­cerns, it doesn’t store facial images. State gov­ern­ments could begin using the sys­tem late this year or ear­ly next year, hope­ful­ly speed­ing up trav­el for those who use the lanes prop­er­ly.


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