Electronic Design

Cars Tap Wireless, Memory Technologies For Improved Safety

The automobile has come a long way since its inception in the 1700s. From steam-powered carriages to today’s “mobile hubs” with GPS, movie screens, voice-activated phone capabilities, and self-parking features, the auto industry continues its rapid path of evolution.

What’s next for the cars of tomorrow? While we won’t exactly be flying about like the Jetsons, in the coming years, features like traffic notification systems and speed limit alarms will enhance the driving experience and make it a lot safer.

Real-Time Traffic Routing

Traffic plagues civil planners and commuters alike. Several educational and research institutions, along with federal and state governments, are taking initiatives to develop dynamic routing systems.

The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is developing the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) to relieve traffic congestion and improve safety using IT-based tools. RITA plans to use an array of wireless and wired communications to manage fee payment for parking, transit, and tolls, to manage speed limits and traffic controls based on weather conditions, and to respond to emergencies faster.

Programs like ITS and the Advanced Traveler Information System being developed in New York rely heavily on cameras at toll booths, at crossings, and on highways. Yet this approach is expensive and extremely time consuming, and in the end, the reliability of the information can be questionable as well.

Today, vehicles are equipped with expensive custom-made devices using GPS and advanced software to track the driver’s current position and direct the driver to the appropriate route. Meanwhile, all mobile service providers already keep track of all their devices in the field at any given moment and can transmit and receive data from them.

Cell phones present an information and network infrastructure that is in a much better position to enable the next generation of automotive technologies. Without purchasing a GPS device, drivers already have cell phones that are connected to a large number of transponders that keep track of mobile devices.

Hundreds of transponders can be used in a single city to provide additional functionality through these mobile devices. Mobile service providers can already determine driver travel information for more than 200 million cell-phone users using proximity information as they move from one transponder to the next.

To further leverage cellular networks and enable the next generation of automotive technology, we only need to develop the algorithms and procedures to collect, analyze, and distribute the information—and, of course, get the permission of the federal government to access the whereabouts of millions of phones. Legislation prevents us from accessing specific identity information. However, data collected from cell phones can be used to provide real-time traffic insight without violating the privacy of individual cell-phone users.

By collaborating with service providers and technology developers, civil planners will be able to better architect traffic solutions and remedial issues. Also, dynamic routing systems will be able to provide drivers with more accurate real-time traffic data, enabling them to circumvent congested areas. Several of today’s new cars, including models from Mercedes and BMW, have in-dash computer memory systems that can gather information by working with the automobile’s GPS or the driver’s cell phone.

Speed Limit Alarm

Despite more stringent driver education measures, particularly focused on new drivers, the number of car-related accidents continues to increase. In the future, automobiles will have a number of features that will help aid safe driving and, therefore, decrease the number of accidents. The rear-view camera we see in many models today is one example.

In the future, we will likely see an alarm that will notify drivers of the speed limit of the zone in which they are driving. As the car enters a zone with a new speed limit, the alarm will update the driver. This solution will again require cooperation between car manufacturers, technology developers, and civil planners.

There are relatively few obstacles to implementing this feature. Newly developed technologies, such as chipless radio-frequency identification (CL-RFID), will be necessary. Devices and applications based on the CL-RFID concept can be used in automobiles and speed limit signs to make this concept a reality.

Speed limit signs won’t require any power, because in CL-RFID-based implementations, the tags can be placed on any surface that can be printed. We would only need to invest in implementing the technologies, select the best frequency, and reach an agreement between several involved parties.

The signs can be manufactured using specially encoded paints that use nanofibers and chemicals to make them work in a CL-RFID system. They would act as chipless transmitters that can be read by readers installed in automobiles. Vehicles would need a basic receiver that can scan a specified bandwidth, process the signal, and display an output with the suggested speed limit.

Memory Backbone

The most consistent requirement for developing transportation solutions available to drivers is the ability to process data quickly and efficiently. To process that information electronically, systems must be able to quickly store, retrieve, and execute the required data.

Flash memory has this capability, and it can reliably handle comparatively large amounts of data. In addition to supporting features for safety and convenience, it can also deliver communication capabilities to drivers, including cell-phone and Internet connectivity, GPS applications, and Bluetooth compatibility.

Furthermore, flash memory has opened the doors for automobile manufacturers to develop enhanced feature sets for their products. With the ability to store, retrieve, and execute data quickly and efficiently, the sky is the limit in terms of potential applications. All that will be required is a bit of creative thinking and collaboration between the involved stakeholders, such as technologists, civil planners, and service providers.

More On The Horizon

Proximity alarms that let drivers know when they are close to another vehicle will increase in use and applications. We also may have in-lane driving alarms that will let users know when they are about to cross a lane.

The next generation of automotive innovation will focus on feeding real-time information to the car so the driver can make more intelligent decisions. Flash technology will enable these wireless devices to rapidly store, process, and disseminate information at the speed we need to move faster.

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