In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, and another 70,000 pedestrians were injured. Various solutions have been applied in the past to reduce pedestrian traffic crashes, from smarter traffic lights, to improved pedestrian crossing design. The most extreme proposed solution so far, however, comes from Honda. The Japanese car manufacturer has recently demonstrated an interesting piece of technology, called advanced vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) safety system, which basically connects the driver with the pedestrians, each receiving advanced warning of a possible collision – one in his heads-up display in the car, the other on his smartphone. Is such a system too complicated, at least for the near future, or is the tech actually feasible?
The safety system relies on the already existing vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) network technology. Crashes between cars occur in a significantly different context from those with pedestrians, however. Cars travel across a bandway, which is marked and makes predictions regarding a car’s direction of movement easier. Then, the relative speed between cars is typically much smaller than that between a car and pedestrians. And, of course, its much easier to fit car with relatively cheap tech that read its surroundings – think of Google’s self-driving car which is the best example of vehicle to vehicle safety. It drives itself after all!
Like V2V, Honda’s V2P uses the Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) protocol as a means of communication, which is basically a technology that automatically relays information between two users of the protocol. The hardware is carried by both parties: the pedestrian uses it embedded in his smartphone, which constantly monitors the person’s position and direction of movement through the already built-in GPS and accelerometer, while the hardware in the car constantly analyzes the information relayed by nearby smartphones and builds possible collision scenarios in real-time. If the system considers a collision is possible, a warning is sent to both car and pedestrian. The message is sent both in text and as an audio signal similar to the noise a truck makes when backing up. That always grabs attention, I guess.
According to Honda, the technology will also allow the driver know whether the pedestrian is wearing headphones, talking on his phone or texting – indicators that the pedestrian ins’t paying attention and is thus at a greater risk of being hit by the vehicle. Also, they say the technology can be useful in multiple scenarios such as when an approaching pedestrian is hidden by other vehicles or when a car is backing up.
Honda isn’t alone either. General Motors is also thinking of implementing such a technology in their cars. How could this work on a mass scale, though? In the U.S. some 56% of all adults are smartphone users, however, the V2P so far can’t function using the built-in hardware in commercially available smartphones today. Smartphone manufactures would have to add the technology in future smartphones, and for this, they need to be convinced. The U.S. Department of Transportation could actually force both smartphone and automobile manufactures to implement the technology. Even one second of advanced warning can make the whole difference in the world. I for one am impressed, hopefully this goes live in the coming decade!
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.