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Car Talk: Texas, IBM To Test Cars That Keep Tabs On One Another

May 6, 2010
Illustration of the Distronic Plus collision-avoidance system from Mercedes-Benz

Illustration of the Distronic Plus collision-avoidance system from Mercedes-Benz

2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

A big part of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood's job is making America's roadways safer. Over the past year or so, he's devoted much time and energy to fighting the hazard of distracted driving, but his newest program actually encourages talking on the go -- only now, it's the cars that are chatting, not the drivers.

LaHood knows that driver education isn't the only answer to the problem of distracted driving, so he's bringing the proverbial mountain to Mohamed with a program that educates cars themselves. According to a report on CNET, LaHood is rolling out a pilot program in Texas that both monitors traffic conditions and allows cars to check in with one another to ensure there aren't any nasty surprises on the morning commute. The program is part of the DOT's IntelliDrive initiative, which incorporates a range of technologies to track movement...

  • Among vehicles to enable crash prevention;
  • Between vehicles and the infrastructure to enable safety, mobility and environmental benefits; and
  • Among vehicles, infrastructure, and wireless devices to provide continuous real-time connectivity to all system users.

In some respects, the technology being used for IntelliDrive is similar to that used in other test projects, like the traffic-monitoring program from MIT we mentioned last year. Those systems use cameras and other stationary sensors to track the flow of traffic and reroute drivers quickly in case of an accident or slowdown.

What sets IntelliDrive apart is the technology riding shotgun in the vehicles themselves -- technology that can monitor sudden braking, lane changes, and other actions that could lead to crashes. When the system detects a potential problem, information gets routed to other cars in the area, letting drivers know of the danger. Although there's no real discussion of this on the IntelliDrive website, we could imagine a scenario down the line in which cars themselves respond to such data by braking or veering to the side, similar to the way Distronic Plus helps rides like the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe avoid collisions. The DOT hopes to enable IntelliDrive sensors on cyclists and pedestrians, too, to minimize the danger posed to them in traffic.

So far, the leading candidate to develop the technology for this program is IBM. Big Blue has been devoting a lot of time and resources to telematics systems in recent years and recently conducted some promising, smaller-scale programs in Finland using its traffic-tracking devices.

The DOT hopes to wrap up the IntelliDrive testing phase by 2013. At that time, the agency will determine which, if any of the technologies are ready for prime-time and how they'll be deployed. Of course by that time, we fully expect the Google Car to be up and running, but you know, just in case.


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