Wolfsburg, Germany – In less than two years, Volkswagen will begin fitting some new models as standard with car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure connectivity.
Using a wireless local area network, they’ll be able to exchange traffic information with other cars (including cars of other makes, provided they’re using the same technology), as well as transport infrastructure inside a radius of about 500 metres, within a few milliseconds. That could be anything from traffic lights not working, to an accident report, to something as immediate as a pedestrian crossing the street just out of sight around the corner you’re about to turn into.
Volkswagen’s hardware is based on an open-source standard that’s been tested and validated for automotive applications - including sensor data, making it possible for the car to, quite literally, see around corners.
The technology uses a dedicated radio-frequency band reserved for road safety and traffic information and, because the data exchanged is very localised, no data needs to be stored centrally - or, indeed, can be. That not only leaves the Big Brother conspiracy theorists without an axe to grind, it prevents ongoing communications costs and doesn’t rely on cellphone network coverage.
By going ahead with this open-source technology as part of the basic specifications of its models - before any regulations are put in place - Volkswagen is hoping other manufacturers will adopt the same standard.
"We want to improve road safety by networking vehicles, and the most efficient way is through the rapid roll-out of a common technology", said Volkswagen head of vehicle body development Johannes Neft. “What matters is that the technology is used consistently, and by as many manufacturers and partners as possible."
Across the industry
That will start in 2019, with warnings and information on short-term local traffic risks, such as a another car making a sudden stop, or the onboard sensors detecting black ice. Within a few milliseconds, every other car in range that’s equipped with pWLAN will be alerted, warning lights will be flashing on their dashboards and, if they’re on adaptive cruise control, they’ll be gently slowing down as necessary.
As the number of users increases and the system becomes more effective, car companies will be able to cooperate with transport authorities and industry partners; once police forces and emergency services are also equipped with pWLAN technology, it will be possible to warn drivers about approaching emergency vehicles, and which way they’re going, long before you can see or hear them.
Already transport contractors in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria are planning to fit the trailers used to block off roadworks with pWLAN, to reduce the risk of cars crashing into roadworks on freeways.