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.
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.