Carrier WiFi

If These Cars Could Talk

One of the biggest concerns about telematics is that cars are being connected at the expense of driver safety.

Sure, connectivity can help by taking communications hands-free, relaying traffic alerts and making navigation audible, but automakers are also baking in infotainment systems with video, music and even the entire world of mobile apps. Not to mention that the time spent fiddling with these things when they don't work properly may be just as dangerous as using the services as advertised. Connected driving could easily become synonymous with reckless driving.

But the concept of connected cars is evolving to be much more than just in-car infotainment. An interesting study released Thursday by the Technische Universität München (TUM), along with local companies and research institutes in Germany, shows what's possible when connectivity goes outside the car as well.

Scientists from the university were testing out a different kind of car connectivity called car-to-x communication. In a simTD (Safe Intelligent Mobility – Test Field Germany) field test involving 500 cars outfitted with the technology, they tested how vehicles could exchange information with one another to notify drivers about dangers and upcoming traffic.

The study found that this tech could save more than €11 billion (US$14.5 billion) each year for the Germany economy through a combination of avoiding accidents, reducing travel time and lowering environmental pollution.

The group developed sensors that use WLAN-based radio technology to communicate with one another. So, any car that has a sensor installed can link up with roadside stations, cars and traffic centers that will then relay information around traffic and other issues.

The idea is that having this information would make the drivers more efficient and safer. For example, if a car brakes sharply ahead, a light signal would display in the vehicle, even if there are several vehicles between you and the offending car. Or, for a cooler example, your car dashboard could suggest the best route to take to hit all green lights to your destination.

The first function to come out of this work, a warning system for roadwork from Rotterdam to Vienna, will be implemented in 2015. Mercedes Benz has also said it will include car-to-x in its vehicles as part of its Intelligent Drive initiative.

You'd be hard pressed to find a wireless operator that's not interested in connecting cars. AT&T has teamed up with General Motors to bake in LTE; Telefonica Digital is heading up a consortium on the topic; Verizon acquired Hughes Telematics for a way into cars; and Sprint is gaining traction with its Velocity in-car system, to name a few examples.

It's emerging as one of the most promising fields for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The space has its fair share of challenges -- how to charge for it, how to balance distraction with displays and what technology to use are three big ones. But there's also plenty of opportunity.

There's also clearly innovation to be had outside of and between cars. It may take a few years, but the driving experience could soon be a lot different -- and better -- than it is today. I would keep your eyes on the road as this exciting space shapes up.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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