Minnesota grad students creating technology to make cars smarter

Technology is advancing by leaps and bounds in the automotive industry. The use of computers in motor vehicles has advanced in the past few decades as they have become more integral to the design and function of cars and trucks. Microprocessor-controlled devices, also called electronic control units, work together throughout a car, sending messages and signals to perform tasks as varied as braking and climate control. Some of the most recent advances relate to automobile safety. Under the guidance of a professor, a group of electrical engineering graduate students at the University of Minnesota-Duluth have been working for the past five years to develop a system of vehicle-to-vehicle communication that is meant to give drivers more information and reduce the number and severity of car accidents.

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication

The U.S. Department of Transportation defines vehicle-to-vehicle communications as the wireless exchange of data between nearby vehicles that offers the opportunity for significant safety improvements. The basic idea behind the process is that cars can talk to each other by sending information concerning their position, speed, location and other pertinent data. This information will allow vehicles to:

  • Sense threats and hazards.
  • Calculate risk.
  • Issue driver warnings.
  • Take preemptive action to avoid and mitigate crashes.

The research group in Duluth has been developing programming that would enable a driver to discern what is going on ahead of him or her. For instance, if a car is stopped in the highway due to traffic or mechanical problems, the stopped car would relay a message to cars behind it, warning the drivers of those cars of its presence. Upon receipt of such a message, those drivers would then be able to prepare accordingly for the hazard ahead. In addition, the cars which had received the relayed message would then transmit the message to the cars behind them, making more drivers aware of the situation and reducing the likelihood of a collision involving the stopped vehicle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently completed a year-long test of 3,000 cars, trucks and buses that were connected to determine how to proceed with connected vehicle technology. After reviewing the data collected, the NHTSA will decide if such technology should be included in all new vehicles. According to the agency, this technology could lead to an 80 percent reduction in the occurrence or severity of unimpaired vehicle crashes.

There is the potential for legal issues to arise in connection with vehicle-to-vehicle technology. With the increasing amount of automation and the ability of a car to actually take action to avoid a potential collision, policymakers will need to discuss who would be liable in an accident involving a vehicle employing the technology, the driver or the car maker or some combination of the two.

Liability for motor vehicle collisions can be a confusing issue without such technology. If you have been involved in a car accident and have questions about your rights under the law, contact an experienced attorney. A lawyer can let you know whether you may be able to recover damages for injuries incurred in a crash, including medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.