Overdrive Extra

Max Heine

Vehicles expected to gather and share more data

| June 22, 2013

This blog has reported a few times on robo-drivers for cars and trucks, a concept that has been tested with some success around the globe. It’s still a ways off for U.S. highways, but another application of wireless technology that’s likely to show up earlier is “connected vehicle” systems.

Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, second from left, helps cut a ribbon for the Virginia Connected Test Bed.
Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, second from left, helps cut a ribbon for the Virginia Connected Test Bed.

The University of Virginia and Virginia Tech are partnering in a $14 million test of this. “Connected vehicle” technology means vehicles  picking up road and traffic information and share it with vehicles nearby or headed in the same direction. Think construction, wrecks, stalled vehicles, detours, lane closures, wet or icy pavement, etc. As with the robo-drivers, the goals would be safety and reduction of congestion and emissions.

Professional drivers already tend to get more valuable road information than other drivers, via CB or any number of online resources. Still, no one gets it all, and it’s unsafe to check a smartphone for tips while driving.

The new Virginia project involves 43 “connected” intersections in Merrifield, Va., near Fairfax, along the Interstate 66 corridor and state Highways 29 and 50. Wireless devices were installed to track and receive information from test cars equipped with special wireless technology. A second, smaller test bed is located in Blacksburg, at the headquarters of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

There are 12 test vehicles outfitted to collect research data from the Fairfax County test bed, including a tractor-trailer, cars, motorcycles and a bus.

The vehicle’s device for such a system costs about $35, and can be installed after-market, said Thomas Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Most industry experts believe this technology will be in use within five to 10 years, he said.

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