Since even the threat of serious injury or death isn't enough to keep people engrossed in their phones from walking out into traffic, General Motors is developing a new pedestrian safety technology that will sense the phone itself. Using Wi-Fi Direct, a peer-to-peer wireless standard that's like a medium-range Bluetooth, a car would be able to detect a smartphone directly and alert the driver in time to avoid kneecapping the pedestrian.

GM says that Wi-Fi Direct would allow devices to connect in one second, rather than the seven to eight that devices would need when connecting through a cell tower. While GM is still developing the concept, it also has plans for a smartphone app that would warn approaching vehicles. It could be used by bike messengers, construction workers, and others who are frequently at risk of being hit by traffic.

Scroll down to read the full press release and watch a video explaining the concept.


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GM Developing Wireless Pedestrian Detection Technology
• Wi-Fi Direct connectivity in vehicles could help increase driver awareness
• Efforts build on GM's Vehicle-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure technology


DETROIT – General Motors researchers are developing a promising driver assistance feature potentially capable of detecting pedestrians and bicyclists on congested streets or in poor visibility conditions before the driver notices them.

The feature relies on Wi-Fi Direct, the peer-to-peer wireless standard that allows devices like some smartphones to communicate directly with each other rather than through a shared access point like a cell phone tower.

GM researchers have determined Wi-Fi Direct can be integrated with other sensor-based object detection and driver alert systems already available on production vehicles to help detect pedestrians and bicyclists carrying smartphones equipped with Wi-Fi Direct.

The automaker also is looking to develop a complementary app for Wi-Fi Direct-capable smartphones that can be downloaded by frequent road users such as "bike messenger" or "construction worker" that will help Wi-Fi Direct-equipped vehicles identify them.

Wireless pedestrian detection is part of GM's ongoing development of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication systems that could provide advance warning about hazards such as slowed or stalled vehicles, slippery roads or intersections and stop signs.

"This new wireless capability could warn drivers about pedestrians who might be stepping into the roadway from behind a parked vehicle, or bicyclists who are riding in the car's blind spot," said Nady Boules, GM Global R&D director of the Electrical and Control Systems Research Lab. "Wi-Fi Direct has the potential to become an integral part of the comprehensive driver assistance systems we offer on many of our Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles."

By eliminating the intermediate step required to reach a cell phone tower, Wi-Fi Direct allows devices to connect in approximately one second compared to conventional wireless systems that typically need seven or eight seconds to acquire location information and connect.
"Wi-Fi Direct's fast connections offer a distinct advantage in vehicle applications," said Donald Grimm, GM Global R&D senior researcher of perception and vehicle control systems. "The quicker a vehicle can detect other Wi-Fi Direct users, the greater the potential for collision avoidance."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 4,280 pedestrians and 618 bicyclists lost their lives in collisions with motor vehicles in 2010. Both totals were down by as much as 25 percent since 1995, consistent with overall traffic fatalities. GM's potential use of Wi-Fi Direct is one way the automaker is working to help further reduce the number of traffic fatalities.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the global industry association in charge of certifying wireless standards, claims Wi-Fi Direct devices can reach each other at a maximum distance of 656 feet or more than two football fields away. In addition to aiding pedestrian detection, this range could enable secure transfers of files such as MP3s or digital address book information between a home computer and the user's Wi-Fi Direct-equipped vehicle infotainment or navigation system.

"As we move toward becoming a more connected society, having a self-aware connected car will be increasingly important," said Thilo Koslowski, vice president of automotive industry analysis at Gartner Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company. "Not only can Wi-Fi Direct help vehicles seamlessly communicate with other consumer devices, it can also augment vehicle-to-infrastructure communications as well, which could lead to better traffic management and fewer accidents."


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  • 32 Comments
      Scott Sliwinski
      • 2 Years Ago
      How about Pedestrians just put down the phone when they try to cross the street and simply pay attention to their surroundings... Let play a game called: Pre-Smartphone Era... It the year 2000, you are about to cross a busy intersection on foot, what should you do: 1. Look both Ways / Check for oncoming traffic 2. Wait for the Walk Signal to change 3. Don't be Stupid 4. All of the Above
      wllharrington
      • 2 Years Ago
      How about an app on the phone to tell the person to wake up and look around?
      sundude
      • 2 Years Ago
      The more we invent technologies to handle the driving task, the more we remove responsibility from the driver to pay attention and control the vehicle. Pretty sure this leads to worse driving, not better.
        Zeus
        • 2 Years Ago
        @sundude
        Thank you! I made the exact same point on a forum and all these people disagreed with me and jumped all over me for saying exactly what you just said. People are way too reliant on technology and it's becoming a substitute for just being smart and aware of your environment. Skynet dude...skynet...
      marshknute
      • 2 Years Ago
      I remember the days when we looked both ways before crossing the road. If someone did get hit, it was called natural selection.
      Corey
      • 2 Years Ago
      So let me get this right, you need an "app" to tell you that a car is coming towards you?!?!? I'm really starting to believe the movie "Idiocracy" was foretelling the future.
      sadiemae1214
      • 2 Years Ago
      Of course people will be paying thru the nose for this new technology. It would be cheaper if PEOPLE WOULD JUST STAY OFF THEIR CELL PHONES WHILE CROSSING THE STREET !!!!!
      pwn3d
      • 2 Years Ago
      it's unfortunate people don't have the common sense app already implanted cerebral, look both ways while crossing the street and always underestimate the driver coming down the road. Don't assume they see you just cause you see them. As when driving always approach a crosswalk with caution.
      ClementZ
      • 2 Years Ago
      Or the pedestrians could, you know, Use their eyes and their ears.
        Zeus
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ClementZ
        No way clementz, way too much sense in that solution. Just default on technology to solve all problems that humans could avoid if we were more aware of our environment. Definitely don't want people to actually start paying attention and thinking. Whos going to buy all this glorious technology if that happens!?
        axiomatik
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ClementZ
        If only. http://news.yahoo.com/texting-while-walking-claims-another-victim-woman-falls-041406079.html
      Mick
      • 2 Years Ago
      Now I am scared. I used to think we were too engrossed in these damned things. Watching people in Manhattan walk into each other, me having to shout WHOA to some lug walking straight at me. Now we're BECOMING these things!!! Is this all we're using our eyes for theses days. We gonna become blind like bats for lack of usage, Wake up and look at the trees people!!!! Drop the apps and get some haps,
      ycplum
      • 2 Years Ago
      I question how effective this app will be in NYC. I think ars and pedestrians are simply too close to give adequate warning. As for those of you that say a pedestrian should know when a car approaches, a very common scenario involves a pedestrian crossing with the light and a vehicle (usually a truck), going in the same direction, coming up behind the pedestrian and making a turn into the pedestrian. One issue in NYC is sensory overload.
        Bruce
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ycplum
        Or just survival common sense. Lot's of people with no place to park. They have to walk most everywhere. It's like they don't care how or where they walk. Cut into traffic and not even glance at what's coming at you. Where's Godzilla/Gojirrah or what ever he's called. We need him to do a makeover on that city.
      DAVER
      • 2 Years Ago
      I witnessed a young lady step out into a crosswalk on her cell phone with a firetruck approaching the intercection with sirens blaring. She continued on in the crosswalk as the fire truck passed thru the intersection, traveling in the same direction as the pedestrian. If the fire truck had to make a left turn, the young lady would have been in his path, still on the phone.
        docmetcalf1955
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DAVER
        too bad the firetruck didnt run over her, now she will pass along her defective genes
      IBx27
      • 2 Years Ago
      So they're making you check your cell phone while in a crosswalk to see if there's a car coming at you at 40mph. I would like to apologize to Darwin, on behalf of the entirety of our population not deserving of his awards.
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