Wireless technology might one day allow cars to “talk” to one another, transmitting information about location, speed, and direction, while warning drivers about dangers they would otherwise be blind to. While there is some excitement about the potential safety benefits, detractors object philosophically to the notion of yet another device automating and/or distracting from the task of driving. A recent NPR segment on All Things Considered reported on the Ann Arbor, MI-based investigation into the effectiveness of ‘connected cars’ – cars that communicate wirelessly with one another in close proximity to warn drivers of potential safety hazards. (Samilton, 2012)
Ann Arbor, MI: first major test site for ‘talking cars’
What’s driving the implementation of this technology? Proponents – such as Peter Sweatman of the University of Michigan – justify the importance of this technology by citing the number one cause of death for young people (ages 1-35) in the US: automobile accidents. For many, auto accidents are public concern number 1.
NPR’s Tracy Samilton reiterated that the intention in adopting this technology is to give drivers more time to evade common road hazards by providing warning and/or notice that would be otherwise impossible (due to obstructions in their visual field, for instance). Samilton reports that the investigation will implement the wireless technology for a small population of drivers (up to 3,000) in Ann Arbor, MI. (Samilton, 2012)
The technology will feature wireless devices capable of broadcasting information on current location, current speed, and current direction to other ‘connected’ automobiles, with broadcasts occurring once every 10 seconds. Samilton also reports that participants in the Ann Arbor, MI study will be equipped with audio warning systems, also designed to increase the driver’s opportunity to evade potential roadway hazards.
Despite the safety potential, however, philosophical objections complicate the likelihood of adoption. Some detractors argue that ‘connected cars’ could become yet another way Big Brother can interfere with our day-to-day life.
Car & Driver magazine Editor-in-Chief Mr. Eddie Alterman opposes the technology, alleging that it undermines libertarian principles. In responding to the prospect of ‘talking cars’, he simply asks: “what happened to the rugged individualist?” (Samilton, 2012) The merit of these kinds of claims, however, seems to presume that the technology would be used in an overly intrusive way. Given the general tension between privacy protections/right to privacy and data mining capabilities and business practices (e.g., see “Senator calls for investigation of OnStar privacy issues” via autoblog.com), this fear is not completely unreasonable.
However, perhaps this line of reasoning is premature: the Dept. of Transportation in Ann, Arbor is just now ascertaining whether and to what extent the technology ‘works’ in practical, every-day driving scenarios. Beyond the frequency and type of data to be transmitted wirelessly and between automobiles, there was no information regarding whether and/or how collected data might be stored – for instance, is any information eventually stored in a permanent form, and if so, who retains ‘ownership’ to that data?
Perhaps the types of data collected and transmitted between automobiles will only exist in a temporary form and/or will only persist in ‘real-time’, as demanded by roadway conditions and potential threats. While concern is warranted, there is not enough yet known about the technology to warrant bringing Big Brother into the conversation.
Does the safety potential outweigh the intrusive potential of this technology? With any hope, the findings of this hallmark study will help answer this question. The tried and true method for staying safe on the road is to obey traffic laws, maintain attention, and wear a safety belt. Until we all improve upon these basic tenets of safe driving, multiple car pileups and injuries will remain a constant danger.
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