Honda Researching Ways To Reduce Pedestrian Fatalities
Technology is in experimental phase, but considered promising
We're driving down the street. There's a minivan parked alongside the curb, obscuring the view of the sidewalk. We're oblivious to the fact we're moments away from tragedy.
The pedestrian steps out in front of the car. The brakes lock and the tires squeal.
Had this been an everyday scenario, the pedestrian might have joined the more than 4,400 pedestrians killed on U.S. roads annually. Instead, an experimental safety system developed by Honda alerts both the driver and pedestrian of the impending crisis.
Sufficiently warned, the car screeches to a stop before the crosswalk and the pedestrian recoils.
Honda demonstrated the vehicle-to-pedestrian warning system Wednesday in Detroit, touting it as one of numerous safety technologies the company is working on to decrease the number of deaths on American roads.
"We have a responsibility to share the road, and that includes with pedestrians," said Art St. Cyr, Honda vice president of product planning and logistics. " ... This is the next frontier for road safety."
The technology is in its infancy and not yet available to everyday drivers. But there are many companies studying such technology, as well as the federal government, and the Honda demonstration provided a glimpse at the not-too-distant future of advanced safety technology.
Here's how it works: The system uses a Dedicated Short Range Communications band already approved by the Federal Communications Commission and incorporates GPS functions. The pedestrian has an app on his phone that transmits his location. Together, the technologies can determine whether pedestrians are in danger of being struck by an oncoming car.
The system then flashes warnings on a dashboard-mounted screen to the driver and alerts the pedestrian via cell phone that a collision is imminent. It updates positions approximately 10 times per second.
Honda says it is better than similar radar-based systems because its technology does not require direct line of sight –- it can sense pedestrians that lurk behind obstructions, like parked cars.
There's one big caveat. Users must have the software installed. For pedestrians, that means having an app enabled on a properly-equipped cell phone.
The technology is nonetheless promising. Pedestrian deaths have been rising in recent years, even as the overall number of traffic fatalities has stayed near historic lows. In 2009, 4,109 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. In 2010, the number crept up to 4,280 and it increased further to 4,432 in 2011.
A massive vehicle-to-vehicle communications system experiment is underway at the University of Michigan, where researchers are testing 3,000 cars on the road in the Ann Arbor, Mich., area.
Honda's research in vehicle-to-pedestrian and vehicle-to-motorcycle communications systems are based on the same basic platform, "but take it one step further," says Richard Pham, senior product planner.
Honda showcased a similar experiment with motorcycles, demonstrating how the short-range communication system alerted a car beginning a right turn to the presence of a motorcycle obstructed by a large van.
A warning system flashed a picture of a motorcycle on a dash-mounted screen seconds before it came into view.
Experts say motorcycle-related death are rising. Approximately 5,000 motorcyclists died in 2012, according to Government Highway Safety Association projections, and they constitute 14.7 percent of all traffic fatalities.
"Vehicle communication technology is needed to realize a collision-free car," said Jim Keller, chief engineer and senior manager of Honda's automobile technology research. "It's this area that we believe the next big steps can be made."
Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.
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