I still remember the day in 2009 when an SUV struck three bicyclists near my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, killing two of them. The tragic event shook the city and especially the biking community. Most people I have talked to can share similar stories of people they know (or knew) who were struck by motor vehicles, either as cyclists or pedestrians.
No surprise then that vehicle safety has been front-and-center in new car features. The car of tomorrow not only gets you where you want to go, it protects you on your way. Vehicle manufacturers have been developing communication infrastructure to help vehicles communicate with each other and to infrastructure, with digital messages notifying each other about where they are, where they are going, and what obstructions may be encountered on the road.
This standard set of vehicle messages, known as V2X, has, to date, been primarily centered around cars messaging each other. While the V2X standard can also support so-called “vulnerable road users” (bicyclists, pedestrians, etc.), very little work has been done to implement solutions for them.
That is changing. Tome Software is spearheading an effort to implement bike-to-vehicle (B2V) communications. Working with a large consortium of players in both the automotive and biking industries, Tome has been working on ways to take advantage of common protocols available in off-the-shelf devices to allow vulnerable road users to alert traffic to their location and direction. Hopefully, in ten years’s time, a bike suddenly emerging from behind a roadside dumpster will be fully visible to both the car and the driver long before a driver would usually see it today. (Note: In the video above, the narrator refers to “non-line of sight awareness”, which means that the system can pick up information a driver might not physically see.)
Many obstacles lie ahead. The system prototyped for demonstration at an August conference uses the power of Bluetooth 5’s “extended advertisements”. This allows for more data to be sent by devices to surrounding devices without having to go through the trouble of connecting with them. Bluetooth 4 had similar capabilities but the the data size was too small to be useful. That system simply packaged up a V2X message about the location, heading, and acceleration of the bicycle, and sent it out as a Bluetooth 5 extended advertisement, which could then be picked up and used by the prototype car’s collision avoidance system.
While prototype systems use common protocols like Bluetooth 5 that are available in most smartphones, implementation and deployment won’t be easy. For instance, while most iPhones support Bluetooth 5 and even support sending out advertising messages, the phone does not allow applications to send out custom data in its advertising packets. So, for the present, cyclists may need an additional device to ensure that they are spotted by vehicles.
In any case, while the work in the B2V communication area is still in the early development phase, the hopeful news is that many bike and car manufacturers are looking for ways to solutions that make driving safer for everybody.
Here is more from Jonathan Bartlett on high tech and road safety:
Self-Driving Cars: Florida lawmakers speed through caution signs. Legislation seems fuzzy about who accepts responsibility when things go wrong with autonomous vehicles.
How self-driving cars can really work today At Mind Matters News, we advocate self-driving technology that doesn’t confuse human and machine powers.
Self-driving cars need virtual rails.
Who assumes moral responsibility for self-driving cars?