Smart roads and smarter vehicles

It's not uncommon today to see a driver speeding down a highway, one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding a cellular phone to his ear.

It's not uncommon today to see a driver speeding down a highway, one hand

on the steering wheel and the other holding a cellular phone to his ear.

That distracting situation is increasingly being blamed for roadway

accidents. But soon, thanks to funding from the Transportation Department,

technology may help focus drivers' attention before accidents happen.

Through its Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program, DOT has

funded the development of new technologies that will help drivers avoid

collisions and automatically notify authorities in the case of an accident.

At the DOT Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI) and Society of Automotive

Engineers conference last month, the agency demonstrated sensors that detect

nearby vehicles' movements and notify a driver about potential front-end,

rear-end or side-impact collisions.

Traffic accidents kill 41,000 and injure 3.4 million others in the United

States each year. "That is why we strongly support federal investment in

IVI — government must be the catalyst for change," Transportation Secretary

Rodney Slater said in his address at the IVI meeting.

The ITS budget for 1998 through 2003 is $1.3 billion; the program spends

about $200 million per year. IVI received $23 million of that in fiscal

2000 and is requesting $30 million for fiscal 2001.

DOT will not dictate what new technologies or advanced safety features

will be incorporated in future vehicles, but it intends to speed the design

and delivery of advanced safety and performance systems that will warn drivers

of dangerous situations, recommend actions and even assume partial control

of vehicles to avoid collisions, Slater said.

Slater challenged the IVI partnership between government and industry

to meet goals that include, by 2010:

* Equipping 10 percent of new light vehicles with at least one IVI system.

* Equipping 25 percent of new commercial vehicles with at least one

IVI system.

* Deploying the infrastructure portion of a cooperative intersection

collision warning system in 25 metropolitan areas.

The federal government serves a dual role in technological advancement.

Although DOT is the catalyst for the development of new information technology,

it also has a responsibility to assess the disadvantages of introducing

potentially distracting technology in an already demanding environment.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started an effort in

July focused on studying the effects of driver distraction from new in-vehicle

IT.

"The distraction of today is far different than in years past," said

Rosalyn Millman, deputy administrator of NHTSA.

*HTSA, through the IVI program, is sponsoring several studies and prototypes

of collision-avoidance systems.

A five-year, $35 million IVI research project with General Motors Corp.

and its partner Delphi Delco Electronics Systems is testing advanced adaptive

cruise control and forward-collision warning systems on a Buick LeSabre.

The system combines data about the car's functions and movement, the driving

environment and the driver's reactions to determine the potential for a

collision. The system sounds alerts or alters the car's cruise control speed

if it detects the possibility of a collision. The first prototype car will

be complete in about a year.

Samuel Talmadge, senior scientist in TRW Inc.'s Electromagnetic Systems

and Technology department, has been studying the process of lane changes

for the company's Lane Change Collision Avoidance Program under a five-year,

$4.8 million NHTSA study.

Talmadge hopes to develop a system that will warn drivers of potential

hazards brought about by changing lanes and merging onto highways. By studying

an accident database, Talmadge said he discovered a need for warning icons

located in car mirrors. TRW tested prototype systems and designed and constructed

an instrument test vehicle equipped with a laser rangefinder and an eyetracker

that monitors where the driver is looking. The system also uses the differential

Global Positioning System to determine the location of a vehicle in relation

to others and video to monitor the driver and driving environment.

The system doesn't warn drivers about stationary objects but does monitor

blind spots and searches for fast-approaching vehicles, he said. A red triangle

appears in the rearview and side-view mirrors when another vehicle is in

a car's path.

Another NHTSA-funded IVI project focuses on avoiding collisions at intersections.

The $5 million Intersection Collision Avoidance program at Veridian aims

to prevent the 6,900 fatalities that occur each year at intersections, said

John Pierowicz, program manager for Veridian's Transportation Sector.

Using three radars, GPS position data, a map database of roads, a heads-up

display and a secondary brake system that provides a physical pulse to cue

the driver to brake, Veridian created a collision- avoidance system that

helps the driver recognize situations in which there is insufficient space

to enter traffic or when the driver has violated a red light or stop sign.

The system currently is limited to stop signs, he said.

Using GPS and the map database, the system determines the distance to

an upcoming intersection. The radars identify traffic-control devices, such

as stop signs. If the system finds the vehicle is approaching unsafely,

it provides an audio and physical warning to the driver. The system does

not deploy emergency braking, and it gives the driver plenty of time to

react normally.

Veridian is waiting to see if the IVI program will provide additional

funding for it to refine the system, Pierowicz said. For instance, a communications

link between the vehicle system and traffic signals is needed, he said.

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