It’s safe to say, despite Nevada's recent approval of fully automated vehicles, that we Americans are ambivalent about the prospect of networked cars. Despite the obvious safety and convenience we would glean from a fleet of autos that could negotiate traffic autonomously, avoid pedestrians and potholes, and park themselves, the myth of the independent driver is a powerful one in our culture. Fortunately, the wired automobile is not an all or nothing affair; researchers afiliated with Opel reported last week that it takes as few as five wired cars in every 1,000 to sketch an accurate picture of traffic conditions that engineers can use to respond to tie-ups and reduce congestion.
The project, called Diamant (Dynamic Information and Application for Mobility with Adaptive Networks and Telematics Infrastructure) consists of automobile-mounted, Wi-Fi-enabled sensors, which relay traffic data from car to car until they reach a roadside base station that sends the info to a control center, where engineers can monitor traffic jams, accidents, and construction zones and mount responses in the form of radio alerts and text messages. The surprising discovery is that even when such an automotive web is loosely knit and full of holes, connecting as little as .5 percent of cars on the road, the information it provides can help traffic managers ease congestion, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs--not to mention reducing the stress and anxiety of drivers, whether their rides are Wi-Fi-enabled or not.
The romance of the open road notwithstanding, drivers are in thrall to forces beyond their control--forces that information networks are ideally suited to measure and manage. It’s becoming clear that such networks should be considered integral pieces of transit infrastructure, on par with stoplights and jersey barriers. What’s interesting about the Opel research is its finding that unlike, say, bridges and exit ramps, telematic traffic information networks can serve us even when they’re full of holes.
[Image: Flickr user zoonabar]
[Hat tip: Autopia]
Follow Matthew Battles on Twitter.