Honda's New Pedestrian Tech Uses Cell Phones To Save Lives: Video

September 3, 2013

Every few days, it seems as if another automaker announces a high-tech means to eliminate traffic accidents in the coming years. Recently we've seen two promising candidates.

Last week, Nissan vowed to bring autonomous vehicles to showrooms by the year 2020. That's exciting, but autonomous cars aren't always designed to address pedestrian fatalities -- and based on the data we've seen, that's a major shortcoming. 

Enter Honda, with two new safety systems that could succeed on that front: Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P) and Vehicle-to-Motorcycle (V2M) technology.

The two systems work similarly, allowing Honda vehicles to "see" nearby pedestrians and motorcyclists -- or more specifically, their cell phones. They do so by using Dedicated Short-Range Communications, the same technology used in some parts of the world to collect highway tolls and which is also crucial to tomorrow's vehicle-to-vehicle safety systems.

As you'll see from the video above, when a vehicle equipped with Honda's new technologies senses an oncoming pedestrian or motorcycle, a warning sounds in the car. In the case of pedestrians, the graphic alert even lets the driver know whether the walker is on the phone, texting, or listening to music. (Side note: to us, that seems like it might intrude on the pedestrian's privacy, and it also seems a little useless. Are we meant to slow down for music fans but speed up for texters?)

Pedestrians receive a notice, too, thanks to a popup alert on their phones and an accompanying alarm. At this point, it doesn't appear that motorcyclists receive any warning of impending danger.

If this sounds a little familiar, it should: General Motors unveiled a similar pedestrian-detection system last year -- one that also relies on cell phones to help drivers spot folks on foot. The difference is that while Honda has put its eggs in DSRC's basket, GM's system uses the power of WiFi Direct.

Neither is perfect. While many smartphones are compatible with WiFi Direct, GM's safety system requires an app to work. Unless pedestrians download and activate that app, GM vehicles won't be able to identify them.

DSRC is even more problematic. While it can transmit over longer distances -- around half a mile, compared to WiFi Direct's 656 feet -- DSRC isn't commonly found on cell phones. That means that Honda would need to persuade handset makers to include the necessary hardware for DSRC, upping their cost and the cost of smartphones to consumers, too. 

And of course, neither system does anything to protect pedestrians or motorcyclists who don't carry cell phones. Granted, that's an increasingly small portion of the population, but it's still a problem. And as we shift from devices we carry in our pocket to those we wear on our wrists, around our neck, and elsewhere, can these safety systems keep up? 

Because Honda's technologies are still in the research and testing phase, Honda hasn't released many details about their inner workings. We'll keep you posted as more info emerges.

[h/t Wired]

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