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GM’s Wireless Safety Net Warns Drivers About Dangerous Situations

Using a combination of signals from all over the road, a new system takes cars a step closer to being able to automatically react to conditions in front of them.

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It will still be at least a decade before GM’s EN-V autonomous pod cars hit the streets, but in the meantime, the automaker is working on a mobile system that uses information from surrounding vehicles and infrastructure to warn drivers about dangerous situations. It’s not autonomous vehicle technology, but it’s a step toward the development of cars that think for themselves.

The system consists of a GPS unit-sized transponder (with a display screen) and a smartphone app tied to the car’s display unit. By leveraging Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC), the system can exchange information with other transponder-equipped vehicles and fixed radios (connected to construction sites or traffic signals, for example) within a quarter-mile radius.

If the system is hooked into the vehicle’s computer system, it could use sensor information to warn other drivers of unsafe conditions. A sensor that activates stability control could warn nearby drivers of precarious road conditions. And if a driver at the start of a string of vehicles hits the brakes, every driver behind him could be warned. The smartphone app might also be used by pedestrians and cyclists who want to notify nearby drivers of their location–so if there is a cyclist that is perilously close to a vehicle, the system could offer up an alert.

Perhaps the most important part of the system is that it can be retrofitted onto existing cars–a critical distinction since most of the cars on the road aren’t outfitted with high-tech gear. “Instead
of just seeing what’s right in front of them, drivers will be able to
know about the truck a quarter-mile ahead that’s stalled in their lane.
Later this decade, smartphones, transponders and embedded systems could
be working together to make our roadways safer,” said Don Grimm, senior researcher for GM’s Perception and Vehicle Control Systems group, in a statement.

Once you have one of GM’s safety systems installed, excuses like “I didn’t know that the roads were slippery when I drove down the highway at 90 mph” will no longer fly.

[Image: Flickr user ajimix]

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Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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