Volunteer drivers to test next-gen smart cars

Amanda Iacone, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Michigan drivers will test 3,000 smart cars, buses and trucks that can talk to one another as part of a yearlong study to gauge whether the technology reduces injuries and fatalities.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood tells WTOP that the government provided a $25 million grant to fund the study. LaHood says the idea is to test the technology under normal driving conditions and the volunteers will use the cars to the grocery store or to drive to work.

“It’s a way for us to really test the next generation of technology for safety in autombiles,” he says.

Some cars on the road today offer backup assistance and alert drivers to other cars or pedestrians in a driver’s blind spot. But the new vehicle-to-vehicle technology allows cars to communicate and then alert the driver if another car is too close so the driver can take action to avoid a crash, LaHood says.

The test vehicles are equipped with WiFi technology that connects the vehicles, allowing them to communicate in real time, according to the Department of Transportation.

“This is frankly where we were at 20 or more years ago when we were talking about seatbelts and airbags. We’re testing technology that could possible save a lot more lives and lot more injuries,” he says.

LaHood announced the study Tuesday at the University of Michigan. It is the second phase of Safety Pilot, the largest road test to date of connected vehicle crash avoidance technology.

Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation released data from a series of driver acceptance clinics held during the first phase. That study found that nine out of 10 drivers who used the vehicle-to-vehicle technology liked the safety benefits and would like to have similar safety features on their own vehicle, according to the department.

“A year from now, we will look at all of the statistics and make a judgement about if this really does work,” LaHood says.

The technology could roll off assembly lines quickly, he adds.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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