Do you talk to your car? I know I do (perhaps not as much as I, um, “talk” to other drivers, but some). I think I inherited the trait from my mother: all of the cars of my childhood, I knew from her, were named “Suzy.”
These days, your car may even listen to you, if you have a voice-activated music system or phone. But generally, cars don’t pay much attention to what you say to them.
It could be that you just don’t have anything to say they’re very interested in. Perhaps what cars would really enjoy is conversation with others of their kind…and it may not be too long before they get it.
It’s called “vehicle-to-vehicle communication,” or “V2V” for short. It is, literally, cars and trucks talking to each other. And starting this August, automakers will take part in a year-long field trial of the technology, a study being undertaken in conjunction with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
For the trial, 3,000 cars will be outfitted with equipment that allows them to broadcast their position, speed of travel and direction to other vehicles, and receive signals from those other vehicles in return, over a Wi-Fi network.
In an article about the “digital car,” Technology Review magazine compares the Wi-Fi signals to an alert passenger able to see in all directions at once. A V2V-equipped car could warn the driver if another V2V-equipped car was about to run a red light, or if there’s a V2V-equipped motorcycle in the blind spot.
A study sponsored by the U.S.’s National Highway Transportation Safety Administration looked at the scenarios involved in police-reported crashes involving unimpaired drivers, and found that V2V systems could potentially address a whopping 79 percent of those kinds of crashes: 81 percent of light vehicle crashes and 71 percent of heavy-truck crashes.
Your car might not just talk to other cars, either. There is also something called V2I, which stands for “vehicle-to-infrastructure.” That communication between vehicle and roadway, the study found, potentially dealt with 26 percent of all crashes: 27 percent of light-vehicle, and 15-percent of heavy-truck. Putting the two together raised the potential reduction in (or at least reduction in the severity of) all kinds of crashes to 81 percent.
If this year’s field trial and other studies produce favorable results, the U.S. government could start developing rules as early as next year that would mandate the inclusion of V2V systems in all new vehicles: pretty much a necessity if the technology is to be as effective as possible, since a one-sided conversation between a V2V-equipped car and one that’s effectively deaf and dumb won’t help anyone.
Of course, “talking cars” may talk not only to other cars, but to the entire world, via the Internet. For example, Ford has a made a deal with Google to use the search engine’s prediction algorithms, software that analyzes large data sets to spot trends. The idea, presented by Ryan McGee, a technical expert in Ford’s Vehicle Controls Architecture and Algorithm Design research group at the annual Google I/O conference in San Francisco last year, is that your car would send data to Google’s data centers, where software would predict where you are headed, based on past trips. Technology Review describes it this way: “Google might predict, say, that there’s a 59.24 percent chance you’re headed over to Bob’s house. A hybrid car might use a map of low-emission zones to determine when to switch to battery power as you drive. Or the algorithm could pick a fuel-efficient path with few hills, no rain, and the least traffic.”
This isn’t coming soon, if it comes at all: it’s probably four to eight years away. But it’s only one example of the possibilities inherent in cars that are no longer big dumb objects, but essentially rolling computers with network connectivity.
K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior leader for open innovation at Ford Motor Company, puts it this way in that Technology Review article. “The first billion vehicles in this world are like [un-networked] desktops—each doing their own little thing. The next billion cars should talk to each other and share intelligence.
“Think of how the World Wide Web changed the world,” he goes on. “The automotive sector is ripe for a similar change.”
(The photo: A Ford Mustang California Special.)