By Jim Kerr

It sounds like science fiction – cars automatically talking to one another and to roadside computers, warning drivers if road conditions are unsafe, if there may be an imminent collision, or if they are going around a curve too fast! No, it’s not science fiction. This technology is all available now and soon we will likely start to see in integrated into vehicles.

The first implementation of Intelligent Transportation systems is about to be introduced into a 20 square mile area in the Detroit, Michigan area this summer by the U.S. Department of Transport’s Intelligent Transportation Systems program as a test project for developing and implementing future communication systems. Not only will the system have the capability of warning drivers about unsafe road and traffic conditions, it will also provide real time management tools for the planning of traffic flow. This means the commute to work and home could be significantly quicker.

Working with the Department of Transport, the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Consortium (VIIC), consisting of members from most of the automobile manufacturers, is supporting this initiative to study roadside vehicle communications systems. New vehicles are already incorporating internal communication technology between modules. It is a short leap to add another communications module to vehicles that will be able to communicate outside the vehicle.

Two of the companies that have been selected to provide communications for this initial project are Wind River Systems and Technocom. Wind River Systems is a global company headquartered in California and is a leader in software optimization. They will provide Linux-based communication software enabling the vehicles to communicate with roadside sensors.

Technocom will supply Multiband Configurable Networking Units (MCNU) to serve as Dedicated Short Range Commnication (DSRC) devices placed along the roadside. This Roadside Equipment (RSE) will communicate with the vehicles wirelessly as they drive by. I can already see a need to learn a whole new bunch of acronyms!

A communications frequency standard has been established at 5.9 GigaHertz for this roadside equipment, but an added bonus is the equipment will simultaneously support 802.11a/b/g and p in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands used for public access WiFi and municipal WiFi. The MCNU is also licensed in the 4.9 GHz band used for a variety of broadband public safety communications applications. Those additional frequencies may not mean much to some, but they are the frequencies that wireless laptops and data communications equipment are currently working on. The implications could revolutionize Internet communications access in vehicles. Imagine being able to select a movie for the family while traveling, or learn about roadside attractions on your route, or check how the stock market is doing! Everything you can now do on a home computer connected to the Internet would be possible in a vehicle. One challenge for vehicle manufacturers will be how to enable access for passengers while ensuring drivers are not distracted from the task of driving.

While the side benefits are exciting, the real purpose of the Intelligent Transportation System is to assist safe travel. According to the U.S. Department of Transport, “21,000 of the 43,000 deaths annually on America’s highways are caused by roadway departure and intersection related incidents”. While traffic fatalities in Canada are less than 2/3 of the U.S. per 100,000 population, according to Transport Canada there were still 2725 road users killed and over 212,000 injured in 2004, the most recent year for available traffic collision data. Anything that will reduce those numbers will be most welcome.

Personal security and confidentiality for drivers has been one concern and that has been addressed by the type of data captured as vehicles pass roadside sensors. While the vehicle can pick up specific data about road conditions, the roadside sensors only gather data about direction, volume and speed of passing traffic. This can be used by system administrators to better plan highways, traffic light timing and emergency resources.

Over 100 of the RSE’s ( RoadSide Equipment) units are being installed for this test in the Detroit area. Auto manufacturers, communications equipment manufacturers and Government departments will be watching it closely for the rest of this year and into 2008. Perhaps your next car will “talk” to you to keep you safe as you drive.

Connect with