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Have You Driven a Talking Vehicle Lately?

Jan. 26, 2011
Ford says it is accelerating research into wirelessly connected intelligent vehicles, plans to unveil prototypes this spring.

Move over "Knight Rider." Ford Motor Co. says it is stepping up its R&D spending on intelligent vehicles that wirelessly talk to each other, offering the promise of alerting drivers to potential hazards and traffic tie-ups.

The automaker says it is doubling its investment in vehicle-to-vehicle communications this year and is planning to launch a 20-member task force of scientists and engineers "to explore the technology's broader possibilities."

"Ford believes intelligent vehicles that talk to each other through advanced Wi-Fi are the next frontier of collision-avoidance innovations that could revolutionize the driving experience and hold the potential of helping reduce many crashes," asserts Sue Cischke, Ford's group vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering.

Vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology could help reduce crashes in a variety of ways, including alerting drivers to a change in traffic patterns, Ford says.
An October National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report on the potential safety benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle communications estimates that intelligent vehicles could help in as many as 4.3 million police-reported light-vehicle crashes annually, or approximately 81% of all light-vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers.

Experts say intelligent vehicles could be on the road in five to 10 years, while Ford notes that it will unveil its demonstration vehicles this spring.

A Solid Foundation

Ford's vehicle communications research technology allows vehicles to talk wirelessly with one another using advanced Wi-Fi signals, or dedicated short-range communications, on a secured channel allocated by the Federal Communications Commission.

Unlike radar-based safety features, which identify hazards within a direct line of sight, the Wi-Fi-based radio system allows full-range, 360-degree detection of potentially dangerous situations, such as when a driver's vision is obstructed, according to Ford.

For example, drivers could be alerted if their vehicle is on path to collide with another vehicle at an intersection, when a vehicle ahead stops or slows suddenly or when a traffic pattern changes on a busy highway.

The systems also could warn drivers if there is a risk of collision when changing lanes, approaching a stationary or parked vehicle, or if another driver loses control.

Ford points out that its current technologies -- such as its blind-spot information system -- lay the groundwork for the development of intelligent-vehicle communication systems.

"While there are challenges ahead, the foundation of these smarter vehicles is advanced versions of technologies that are pervasive -- Wi-Fi and crash-avoidance systems that Ford has pioneered in mainstream vehicles today," says Paul Mascarenas, vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering, and chief technical officer. "Intelligent vehicles could help warn drivers of numerous potential dangers such as a car running a red light but blocked from the view of a driver properly entering the intersection."

Jim Vondale, director of Ford's Automotive Safety Office: "Ford has laid the groundwork to give vehicles a voice."Public-Private Partnership

Ford points out that it is partnering with other automakers, the federal government and local and county road commissions to create a common language that ensures all vehicles can talk to each other based on a common communication standard.

The public-private partnership will launch the world's first government-sponsored driving clinics this summer, for which the company will contribute two prototype Ford Taurus sedans.

The Department of Transportation's Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) agency will head the research, continuing to coordinate with a coalition of automakers organized by the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP), a joint research group headed by Ford and General Motors. The partnership aims to develop interoperability standards before completing the research phase in 2013.

Jim Vondale, director of Ford's Automotive Safety Office, has been appointed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to represent automakers on the ITS Advisory Committee. Mike Shulman, technical leader for Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, leads the government-industry technical partnership as program manager for CAMP.

"Ford has laid the groundwork to give vehicles a voice with SYNC and Wi-Fi technology," Vondale says. "Now we're working with other automakers and government leaders worldwide to develop common standards globally to bring intelligent vehicles to market quicker and more affordably."

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