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Smartphones, Wi-Fi Cars Could Reduce Collisions With Pedestrians

One day, these devices might save your life.

By Clifford Atiyeh Jul 26, 2012 1:58PM
General Motors Wi-Fi crash avoidance (c) GMCould your smartphone prevent a car from hitting you? General Motors and other researchers think that's a possibility as an emerging wireless standard works its way into the latest smartphones and new cars.

First seen in 2010, Wi-Fi Direct promises ultrafast device-to-device connections over the same radio waves that smartphones, computers and other electronics currently use to connect to routers and home networks. The difference here is that unlike your application-enabled television, Wi-Fi Direct doesn't involve the Internet. Rather, it's meant to connect local devices directly to each other in as little as a second, and unlike Bluetooth, the connection doesn't require special pass keys and works at more than double the distance, at about 656 feet apart. GM says future cars could detect pedestrians carrying Wi-Fi Direct smartphones, gather their exact locations and warn the driver through existing active safety systems such as forward collision alerts and auto-braking.

Wi-Fi Direct is one part of GM's research on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, in which both cars and roadways become fully aware and adaptive to real-time information. More and more automakers, such as BMW and Hyundai, use a subscription-based 3G cell network to connect a car's infotainment system to the Web for things such as destination searches. A few automakers, such as Ford and Audi, offer wireless hotspots that allow full access to the Internet from any mobile device. By 2015, Ford said it expects 80 percent of the vehicles it sells in North America to have a Wi-Fi connection.

Earlier in July, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a paper that described how multiple cars in one area could share a single Internet connection over Wi-Fi, much like how torrent networks rely on the collective power of multiple computers to make a file transfer.

Wi-Fi Direct currently allows file transfers between two devices without having to pair them, as with Bluetooth, but very few smartphones (such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus) offer that ability. If the technology becomes popular and reliable, it could pull the market away from Bluetooth, the short-range wireless standard for in-car telephone calls and portable audio. With Bluetooth, there isn't one simple way to connect a device -- and many times, as we've often found, it still doesn't work.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 4,900 pedestrians and cyclists were killed by cars in 2010, the most recent year for which data were available.

[Source: GM]

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