For the past five years M. Imran Hayee, a professor of electrical engineering at UMD, has been working on software that will allow vehicles to communicate with each other. This software will allow for safer driving conditions and more accurate information on Programmable Changeable Massive Signs (PCMS)—the large electrical signs at the side of the road that are frequently used during construction work.
Essentially, this means cars will be able to talk to each other through vehicle-to-vehicle communication, or V2V. Though it may seem reminiscent of the Google car, a self-driving vehicle, it is an entirely different concept.
“There are two approaches to vehicle communication,” Hayee said. The Google car eliminates the driver by communicating with WiFi, whereas V2V offers “increased safety (and) more situational awareness,” Hayee explained.
V2V technology is accomplished by relaying messages between vehicles and roadside systems.
“The devices are developed by other companies . . . we're trying to develop the applications for the devices,” Hayee said. “It’s like making apps for an iPod.”
Umair Ibrahim, a graduate student in electrical engineering, has been assisting with the research for the last two and a half years and recently defended his dissertation on this project.
He explained that there are two parts to the product: “the on-board unit and the roadside unit.” The latter is positioned on the road, either in PCMSs or in stoplights. The on-board unit—“it means ‘vehicle’ in Indian,” Ibrahim explained—resembles an Internet modem.
The National Transportation Safety Board is encouraging manufacturers to install it inside new vehicles, but it could also be placed on top of a dashboard, similar to a GPS system.
Safety is the primary benefit of V2V. Essentially, the way the program works is by examining 360 degrees outside of the car to spot potential hazards and then relaying the information from one vehicle to the next. For example, if there is a long line of traffic on the road, your vehicle can be alerted ahead of time.
“That way you don’t rear-end someone in surprise,” Ibrahim said.
Your vehicle would then be able to relay the message to other cars and the roadside unit. This keeps the message on the board current, rather than waiting for it to be updated manually.
The device will hit the market in two to three years. However, in order for the software to be effective, the minimum market use will have to be an estimated 20 to 35 percent of all vehicles.
“This is a really rough estimate,” Ibrahim said. “The number (for minimum market use) could fluctuate greatly once it actually hits the market.”
Regardless of how long it takes, this device is certainly going to cause a dramatic improvement in transportation safety.
“I was really into cars (and) supercars (as a child),” Ibrahim said. “I didn't know I was going to work on these things that ultimately make travel safer.”
BY APRILL EMIG