Smart cars may one day make distracted driving a thing of the past

Starting in May you can buy a high-tech Volvo that promises to save the lives of cyclists and pedestrians, even when you can’t.

It would happen in one of those emergency situations where electronics in the form of radar, cameras and electronic control modules outdo human reactions. It’s new technology, so I wouldn’t ride in front of one of these Volvos to see how it works. Gizmag coverage

Welcome to the future. Google has cars that drive themselves using even more elaborate technology. They’re driving thousands of miles in the Bay Area and working quite well, but it took more than a decade to get to this level.

Misguided video

When you watch Volvo’s promotional video, you’ll roll your eyes at the cyclist’s idiotic maneuver that puts him in the car’s path. I’d rather see a more likely scenario – texting distracted driver drifts into a cyclist from behind.

This technology will take a while to find its way into less expensive cars. In the meantime, what about 18-wheelers? They need this technology more than cars. An add-on would be nice.

These advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are rapidly making their way into the mainstream. Some systems are being mandated by government, especially in Europe. Others are finding industry advocates, such as insurance companies, for reduced insurance costs.

Radar for cyclists

While the technology that goes into these systems is way over my head, I met a cyclist and technologist who has designed an affordable tracking system for detecting cyclists.

Ron Moore, who lives in Santa Rosa, calls his technology Roadar and it’s based on ultra-wide band (UWB) radio signals. Roadar on Facebook

UWB, which has been around for a long time, almost made it into the mainstream before Intel pulled out in 2009. Shortly thereafter the organization driving its acceptance in IEEE folded, slowing UWB’s adoption for commercial use.

UWB has a lot going for it, such as low power, extreme accuracy and lack of signal interference, so it may yet find an application. The U.S. military has done some research on UWB for radar with some success.

The only catch with Roadar is that both the car and the cyclist/pedestrian need hardware, although the system could be implemented in a smartphone using software as long as it had UWB. The car needs a receiver and the cyclist needs a transmitter.

While people online are taking potshots at the Volvo technology — cyclists and non-cyclists alike — we’re seeing the start of a much safer future with Volvo’s technology. It will just take some time for systems to mature and for society to adapt.

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