GM graphic shows cars communicating by Wi-Fi with traffic lights, other cars and pedestrians' smartphones.

General Motors boffins are developing a driver aid that could detect pedestrians and bicycle riders on crowded streets or in poor visibility before the driver notices them.

It works by using Wi-Fi Direct, a radio net that allows devices such as some smartphones to communicate directly with each other rather than through a cellphone tower.

GM whitecoats reckon it can be integrated with other sensor systems that are already available on production cars, to help detect pedestrians and riders carrying smartphones equipped with Wi-Fi Direct.

They're even looking at developing a free app for Wi-Fi smartphones that can be downloaded by people who spend a lot of time on the roads, such as bike messengers and construction workers, that will warn Wi-Fi equipped cars that they're there.


This is all part of GM's research into vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems that could provide advance warning about hazards such as slow or stationary vehicles, slippery roads or intersections and stop signs.

Electrical and control systems research director Nady Boules said: “This new wireless capability could warn drivers about pedestrians who might be stepping into the road from behind a parked car, or a cyclist riding in the car's blind spot.”

What's special about Wi-Fi direct is that it's way faster than even 4G cellphone networks. Once they're in range, two devices (we hate using that word but it's the only one that covers smartphones, tablets, readers and everything in between) can make contact and identify each other in about a second, compared to the seven or eight seconds it takes via the nearest cellphone tower.


Senior researcher Donald Grimm said: “That gives us a distinct advantage; the quicker a car can detect other Wi-Fi Direct users, the greater the potential for collision avoidance.”

According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 4280 pedestrians and 618 cyclists were knocked down and killed by motor vehicles in the United states in 2010. GM's research into using Wi-Fi Direct is one way that could be reduced.

According to global industry association the Wi-Fi Alliance, Wi-Fi Direct devices can contact each other at a maximum distance of 200 metres - two football fields away.

Not only will that help your car spot jaywalking pedestrians and wobbling cyclists, it will make it possible to swop MP3 music files and digital addresses for the satnav between your PC or handheld and the car, while you're in the house and the car is in the driveway.

Industry analyst Thilo Koslowski said: “As we become a more connected society, having a self-aware connected car that can communicate seamlessly with 'smart' devices as well as other cars and the infrastructure, will be increasingly important.”

And you thought Knight Rider was science fiction.