Safer Transportation Tech, Stoplights to Texts

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What if your car could not only also “talk” to other vehicles on the road, but work together with public transit systems, motor carrier networks, GPS, and satellite traffic data to warn drivers–and even automatically prevent–collisions and traffic jams?

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) is a broad definition referring to the integration of communication and sensory technologies to allow private drivers, commercial vehicles (like trucks), public transportation, and infrastructure systems to work together to improve the safety and quality of travel and roadway mobility. ITS also applies to personal mobile and integrated devices designed to address and reduce driver distractions.

Types of ITS

ITS range from roadway management to vehicle communication, between personal devices, cars, buses, trucks, and roadside units. This has broad advantages, from preventing hazardous situations, to saving time and money, and even reducing greenhouse emissions.

  • Personal ITS would provide awareness beyond what drivers can see and hear, alerting them not only to potential hazards, traffic, and weather impacts , but also allowing vehicles to self-optimize travel, from preventing collisions to managing fuel efficiency.
  • Vehicle to Vehicle communications (V2V) would provide for travelers’ cars to help each other out, from helpful hints like watching out for ice on the road, to how to avoid potential collision situations.
  • Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) would enable communications between vehicles and roadside units through Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC). Roadway ITS would collect and transmit data to help both drivers and transportation managers prevent and manage transportation safety, directing traffic to prevent congestion.

Driving Fast to the Future

MIT’s Technology Review listed Car-to-Car Communication as one of the top ten breakthrough technologies for 2015. The report (and forecast) predicts that we’ll have cars that can talk to each other in 1-2 years. That’s just around the corner.

With much of the nation’s attention focused on roadway safety and infrastructure improvement, it makes sense that development of Intelligent Transportation Systems is the focus of many auto manufactures, government agencies, and communication companies. As the report states, “the technology could prevent more than half a million accidents and more than a thousand fatalities in the United States every year.”

Strong Federal Support

For anyone reminded of Skynet, don’t worry, our government has the situation well in hand. While the added convenience would be great, the main motivation for development of ITS is the potential for significant safety, energy, and financial improvements in transportation and mobility. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) ITS Joint Program Office (ITSJPO) strongly supports widespread deployment of an intelligent transportation system solution. The main focus is on integration of wireless technologies between vehicles and infrastructure, known as Dynamic Mobility Applications (DMA). In February 2015, DOT hosted a series of webinars to educate and discuss current progress, developments, and impacts of the government-sponsored DMA programs. Click here to view an informative ITSJPO animated video about connected vehicle technologies.

The largest ITS-dedicated organization in the U.S., the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA), unites public agencies, the private sector, and research institutions in support of discussion, research, and development across the ITS industry. ITSA partners with Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation and other government groups to drive the development of these technologies and their integration into our lives and infrastructure.

Ongoing Innovation

There are dozens of pilot programs and studies currently underway driving this technology forward at breakneck speed. The Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot research program is actively exploring the viability of nationwide deployment of DMA. Under-road Wireless Inductive Charging would allow electric vehicles to charge while waiting at red lights. We already have traffic signals which respond to intersection flow and congestion. Eco-Traffic Signal Timing would shift the focus of data collection to monitor and adapt to traffic in real-time with the focus on reducing environmental impact.

Ford Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Honda, to name just a few, all offer automatic braking technology that alerts the driver to potential collisions and ultimately brakes on its own of the driver doesn’t react. The ITS use a combination of cameras, radar, and database information (for example, differentiating between pedestrians and roadside objects). Automaker innovation is skyrocketing, with most companies including ITS in their concepts and strategy.

By 2017, Volvo plans to launch the “Drive Me” pilot program, putting 100 autonomous vehicles in the hands of ordinary drivers for testing in normal traffic on selected roads, in its hometown Gothenburg, Sweden. Volvo’s Autopilot system uses a responsive system of radar, cameras, GPS and a high-definition 3D digital map, and ultra-sonic sensors to create 360-degree awareness around the vehicle.

Isn’t This Distracted Driving?

DOT-sponsored Connected Vehicle Human Factors Research examines the potential for driver distraction with ITS and what is needed to counteract these factors. All these alerts and notifications would seem likely to add to, rather than prevent, driver distraction. But ITS research strives for a world where mobile device will help, not hurt, driver attentiveness. Car and communications manufacturers are joining this trend, offering and developing ITS that range from mobile and integrated personal alerts to self-driving cars.

At the New York International Auto Show, Nissan showcased its new Driver Attention Alert (DAA) system. One-in-five fatal crashes result from fatigued drivers, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This system learns from each driver’s steering patterns, establishes a baseline, and detects and alerts inattentive behavior. When alerted, the DAA system appears on the dash with an audible alert, and a little amber coffee cup appears, with the words “Take a break”?

Mobile Management

Verizon Wireless has developed the “Safely Go,” app, which controls drivers’ phones while on the road. The system responds automatically to texts and calls and locks use for all applications except maps, navigation, and music. The company became one of the leaders of driver mobile responsibility in 2001, supporting hands-free legislation and launching their Responsible Driver Action plan. The Safely Go app is part of that fifteen-year, ongoing Verizon Wireless Commitment campaign, which also includes supporting driver-safety-targeted legislation, community initiatives, advertising, and employee education.

Many mobile services now offer apps that lock and silence phones when sensing driving and sends auto-replies to incoming texts, like Sprint’s “Drive First,” with some providing for one-touch or limited access to a set list of callers, music, and navigation, like AT&T’s “DriveMode.” #itcanwait is AT&T’s initiative to stop texting while driving. The campaign encourages drivers to utilize a two-character text, ‪#‎X‬, to tell friends and family they’re about to drive and won’t respond.

Designed specifically for commercial fleets, FleetSafer locks phones automatically when it senses driving and sends auto-replies to calls and texts. The developer, AegisMobility, was named a market leader in distracted driving solutions and awarded the 2015 Frost & Sullivan Customer Value Leadership Award for providing “a simple yet multifunctional platform that is responsive to the diverse needs of corporate fleets.”

Speeding Into the Future

Technological advancements in transportation, from mobile-to-dash integration to vehicles that alert and even speak to drivers, are no longer Back to the Future fantasies. Many believe that these are the tools we will ultimately use to shape safer drivers and travel across the country. If the trend of corporate innovation and government support continues, there’s no doubt we’re speeding into a future of smarter–and safer–travel for all.

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