V2V: Department of Transportation’s new communication system helps cars avoid crashes by talking to each other

June 11, 2012 by Amara D. Angelica

(Credit: U.S. Department of Transportation)

The University of Michigan is conducting a pilot program to test a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications device that could help drivers avoid accidents, CNET reports.

This technology could prevent up to 81 percent of all vehicle crashes, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT).

The school’s Transportation and Research Institute is seeking 3,000 drivers in the Ann Arbor, Mich., area, and will equip their vehicles with wireless equipment that will alert the drivers to vehicles moving erratically. Intersections will also be outfitted with communication devices, and eventually the system could facilitate “dynamic real-time timing of traffic signals.”

Last year the DOT announced that it will test consumer acceptance of V2V technology in six cities, including a 100-driver study in Brooklyn, Mich. The UM study, which is funded partly by the DOT, will focus on system reliability and consumer response to the service to figure out which alerts and types of communication are most effective.

Most drivers in the 3,000-person pilot program will have a V2V communications device installed in their existing vehicle, but 128 participants will get a new vehicle with this technology already integrated.

With V2V, more advanced versions of the systems can take control of a car to prevent an accident by applying brakes when the driver reacts too slowly to a warning, Huffington Post reports.

V2V “is our next evolutionary step … to make sure the crash never happens in the first place, which is, frankly, the best safety scenario we can all hope for,” said David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Overall, more than 32,000 people were killed in traffic accidents last year.

In addition to warning of cars running red lights or stop signs, “connected cars” can let drivers know if they don’t have time to make a left turn because of oncoming traffic. When driving on a two-lane road, the systems warn when passing is unsafe because of oncoming cars — even vehicles around a curve that the driver can’t see yet.

In a line of heavy traffic, the systems issue an alert if a car several vehicles ahead brakes hard even before the vehicle directly in front brakes. And the systems alert drivers when they’re at risk of rear-ending a slower-moving car.

It’s also possible for connected cars to exchange information with traffic lights, signs and roadways if states and communities decide to equip their transportation infrastructure with similar technology. The information would be relayed to traffic management centers, tipping them off to congestion, accidents or obstructions.

If cars are reported to be swerving in one spot on a roadway, for example, that could indicate a large pothole or obstruction. The constant stream of vehicle-to-infrastructure, or V2I, information could give traffic managers a better picture of traffic flows than they have today, enabling better timing of traffic signals to keep cars moving, for example. Correspondingly, cars could receive warnings on traffic tie-ups ahead and rerouting directions.

NHTSA has been working on the technology for the past decade along with eight automakers: Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen.

The technology is already available, said Rob Strassburger, vice president for safety of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He said what’s needed is for the government to set standards so that all automakers use compatible technology.

Since V2V relies on wireless technology, ensuring that the safety systems are reliable and can’t be hacked is another concern, NHTSA officials said.

The safety benefits of V2V won’t be fully realized until there is a critical mass of cars on the road that can talk to each other, and just where that point lies isn’t known. By the time the government sets standards and automakers are able to respond, it may be 10 years before the technology is widely available on new cars. It takes about 30 years for a new technology to work its way into the entire population of cars.

Some of the safety technologies for V2V are already available in cars, although they tend to be offered primarily on higher-end models. Lane departure systems, for example, warn drivers when their vehicle unintentionally wanders from its lane, and some can automatically steer the car back. Blind spot systems warn drivers of vehicles in adjacent lanes, and some can also steer away from hazards.

Forward collision warning systems alert drivers to impending crashes, and some can automatically brake if the driver doesn’t respond. Adaptive cruise control automatically adjusts vehicle speed to maintain a set distance from the car ahead in the same lane. Adaptive headlights change their aim in conjunction with the steering wheel. Parking sensors and rear-mounted cameras help a driver parallel park without scraping paint, bumping fenders or hitting pedestrians.

A key difference is that most of the current technologies rely on radar or laser sensors to “see” other nearby vehicles. They can’t warn drivers about cars they can’t see, such as the car that ran the red light in the intersection demonstration, or an oncoming car around a curve in the road.

Together, the currently available technologies and the future V2V systems may effectively form a kind of autopilot for the road. Said Strassburger: “The long-term trajectory for these technologies is the vehicle that drives itself — the driverless car.”

The Huffington Post article mentions the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) program in the “Future Cars” photo gallery at the bottom. SARTRE was featured recently on KurzweilAI (Volvo’s autonomous cars travel 124 miles in Spain in ‘road train’). Volvo Car Corporation spokesperson Jonas Ekmark offered these updates:

Q: Can a Volvo car be converted to work in a road train?

A: The research road train is to a large extent built of components that are in production with 2012 Volvos. Radar, computer vision, and laser sensors are already there, as well as controllable steering, brakes, and powertrain. Additional systems are likely to go into production and become affordable in the next coming years, for instance the V2V communication. However, it is likely that a road-train system needs to be built in to the car from the beginning in order to fulfill stringent vehicle-level requirements.

Q: How does the SARTRE project compare with Google’s autonomous cars?

“Our road train is led by a human driver in the first vehicle. The driver is responsible for all the followers during platooning, just like a bus driver or an airline pilot is reponsible for the passengers. So the following vehicles do not not make their own decisions, essentially.

“It is really cool to be in the middle of this active safety/autonomous driving revolution. In not too many years, we will have cars that drive by themselves, that avoid accidents, that consume much less energy, and that open up new ways of using your time productively.”

Tom Robinson, Project Director for Intelligent Transport Systems at Ricardo, which is developing the autonomous control systems for SARTRE, adds: “I would see the road train as also being supplementary to the rollout of autonomous vehicles; the platooning function and strategies can still be applied (to added benefit) once you have vehicle-to-vehicle cooperation.”