NCAR aims to reduce car accidents 90 percent
April 13, 2009
You’re driving along I-70 in February and suddenly you’re alerted that an SUV ten cars ahead has skidded on black ice.
You immediately slow down, gingerly apply the brakes and avoid the icy patch that could have turned your nice car into corduroy.
The credit doesn’t go to a super-vigilant traffic helicopter, but to a futuristic warning system that is being tested this month in Detroit.
Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder are contributing the weather algorithms to the enormously complex system that aims to give instant messages to more than 200 million cars on the road – fog, drifting snow, accidents, road hazards, detours, cars running red lights, backed up traffic.
If it’s your car that loses its anti-lock brakes, say, and is skidding sideways, the cars behind you are notified immediately by wireless technology similar to the transponders on the dashboard that pay for toll roads, said NCAR spokesman David Hosansky.
IntelliDrive is a national initiative overseen by the Department of Transportation to use new technologies to make driving safer and improve mobility. Cars and trucks will begin to automatically communicate with each other and central databases, alerting drivers to threats.
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“The goal is to reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths by getting drivers the information they need about nearby hazards,” says Sheldon Drobot, the NCAR program manager in charge of the project. “The system will tell drivers what they can expect to run into in the next few seconds and minutes, giving them a critical chance to slow down or take other action.”
The ambitious aim is to reduce vehicle accidents by 90 percent by 2030.
Right now, DOT and NCAR have just 11 cars on the road in metro Detroit to test the system and see how well and fast the cars can communicate.
Likely, there will be a way to opt out of the system for privacy concerns, but all new cars a few years from now are expected to be equipped with the technology.
Each year, bad weather is a contributing cause to 1.5 million automobile accidents, 7,400 deaths and 690,000 injuries, according to the National Research Council.
The technology will include sensors to measure conditions such as temperature, pressure and humidity. An on-board digital memory device will record the information, along with indirect measures, such as windshield wipers being switched on or activation of the antilock braking system.
To guard against false positives, NCAR is coming up with a way to identify certain actions as “outliers,” such as when a driver switches on wipers just to clean the windshield, not to clear driving rain.
IntelliDrive also will alert highway crews and state troopers to hazardous conditions and high-risk accident areas.
“It’s not enough to process the information almost instantaneously,” says William Mahoney, who oversees the system’s development for NCAR. “It needs to be cleaned up, sent through a quality control process, blended with traditional weather data, and eventually delivered back to drivers” who are counting on the system “to accurately guide them through potentially dangerous conditions.”