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GM could save lives with smartphones

New phone technology could save pedestrian and cyclist lives, says General Motors

General Motors logo1 Aug 2012

AS THE world becomes more connected wirelessly, General Motors has announced it is working on a system that would use increasingly advanced smartphones to identify – and hopefully avoid – pedestrians and cyclists on the roads.

GM describes the technology as “promising”, saying it could greatly assist drivers on congested streets and in poor visibility.

It relies on ‘Wi-Fi Direct’, the peer-to-peer wireless standard for latest-generation phones using platforms such as Android 4.0 that allows devices to communicate directly with each other rather than through a shared access point like a phone tower.

GM says its researchers have determined Wi-Fi Direct can be integrated with other sensor-based object detection and driver alert systems already available on production vehicles to help detect pedestrians and cyclists carrying smartphones equipped with the system.

Phones employing Wi-Fi Direct are said to be capable of communicating directly with each other almost instantly up to 200 metres away.

Bypassing the mobile phone towers is claimed to reduce link times from seven or eight seconds (to acquire location information and connect) to about one second, providing true real-time information vital to detection, alert and avoidance systems.

GM has long been developing vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication systems as the next big step in accident avoidance, with systems to arrive in cars within five years, and ultimately with a view to providing autonomous driving.

Wireless pedestrian detection is part of its ongoing development that it says could provide advance warning about hazards such as slowed or stalled vehicles, slippery roads or intersections and stop signs.

GM’s global R&D director of the Electrical and Control Systems Research Lab, Nady Boules, believes the new technology could reduce pedestrian and bicycle fatalities from collisions with motor vehicles, which in the US amounted to 4898 lives in 2010.

“This new wireless capability could warn drivers about pedestrians who might be stepping into the roadway from behind a parked vehicle, or bicyclists who are riding in the car’s blind spot,” he said.

“Wi-Fi Direct has the potential to become an integral part of the comprehensive driver assistance systems we offer on many of our Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles.”

GM believes that Wi-Fi Direct’s fast connections offer a distinct advantage in vehicle applications because the quicker a vehicle can detect other users, the greater the potential for collision avoidance.

In addition to aiding pedestrian detection, the 200-metre range – as assessed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the global industry association in charge of certifying wireless standards – could enable secure transfers of files such as MP3s or digital address book information between a home computer and the user’s vehicle infotainment or navigation system.

“As we move toward becoming a more connected society, having a self-aware connected car will be increasingly important,” said Thilo Koslowski, the vice-president of automotive industry analysis at Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company.

“Not only can Wi-Fi Direct help vehicles seamlessly communicate with other consumer devices, it can also augment vehicle-to-infrastructure communications as well, which could lead to better traffic management and fewer accidents.” GM is also looking to develop a complementary app for Wi-Fi Direct-capable smartphones that can be downloaded by frequent road users such as “bike messenger” or “construction worker” that would help Wi-Fi Direct-equipped vehicles identify them.

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