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GM's New Mobile Warning Tech Could Prevent the Majority of Crashes

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author photo by Nick Chambers October 2011

With the average person carrying around and interacting with more computing power than was imagined possible 30 years ago, GM thinks the time is right to turn that smart phone in your pocket into a way to prevent more than four million U.S. accidents per year.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that's about 83 percent of all accidents that happen with a warning of less than 10 seconds between the first sign of the road hazard and the encounter with it.

In development right now, GM's mobile technology melds GPS and Internet connected devices with what are called vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications standards. This massive connection of people, cars, stoplights, crosswalks and other pieces of equipment has the potential to warn anyone using the software of upcoming threats and dangers.

For instance, when a car engages traction control due to slippery road conditions the system can tell drivers coming up from behind to be wary and why. Alternatively, if a car hits a large pothole or stalls on the side of the road it can mark the spot for other approaching drivers. And when hard braking is required, the braking car can warn other drivers who may not be able to see the impending danger yet to slow down.

Not only can the system let cars know what other cars are doing on the road, it can also include pedestrians and cyclists in the mix alerting them to traffic dangers as well as informing drivers of their locations. With this kind of massively networked system, almost all traffic conditions and threats can be reported perfectly in real time.

"Instead of just seeing what's right in front of them, drivers will be able to know about the truck a quarter-mile ahead that's stalled in their lane," said Don Grimm, senior researcher for GM's Perception and Vehicle Control Systems group. "Later this decade, smartphones, transponders and embedded systems could be working together to make our roadways safer."

So far GM has developed two mobile platforms for the technology: a purpose built transponder unit with a small screen and an app that can be installed on smart phones. Both methods can be used to connect up to vehicles' computers or carried around by pedestrians and cyclists. Recognizing that the average age of vehicles in the U.S. is about 10 years, GM is also trying to ensure the systems can be retrofitted on existing cars.

"These safety systems could provide a significant leap in automotive safety, but their effectiveness goes up dramatically as more people use them," said Grimm. "By putting the technology into portable devices, we could make this potentially life-saving technology widely available and more affordable."

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GM's New Mobile Warning Tech Could Prevent the Majority of Crashes - Autotrader