Hot on the heels of Daimler announcing the largest ever field-test of its car-to-X vehicle communications system in Germany, a similar program being conducted by the U.S. Department of Transport (DoT) got underway this week in the Ann Arbor region of Michigan. Whereas the Daimler trial involves 120 network-linked vehicles, the Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment Program will see some 3,000 vehicles hitting the road in the world's biggest ever real world test of connected-vehicle communication technology.

Described as a “scaled-down version of a future in which all vehicles will be connected,” the model deployment, which is being conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) as part of a US$22 million partnership with the DoT, is designed to determine how well vehicle wireless communication technology works in real world conditions and the effectiveness of vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) systems in improving road safety.

Of the 3,000 vehicles taking part in the 12 month-long model deployment, which includes cars, commercial trucks and transit vehicles, 64 will have embedded devices, around 300 will have aftermarket safety devices, and the remainder will have simple transmission-only vehicle awareness devices. Most vehicles in the test fleet have been supplied by volunteer participants from the Vehicle Safety Communications 3 Consortium, such as GM, which is providing eight V2V-equipped Buick and Cadillac cars.

Ann Arbor was chosen for the program due to its mix of traffic, variety of roadway types and characteristics, seasonal weather and proximity to vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. The project has also seen 73 lane miles (117 km) of Ann Arbor roadway fitted with 29 roadside-equipment installations that will be used for the V2I portion of the model deployment.

To test the effectiveness of V2V and V2I systems, the model deployment vehicles will wirelessly send and receive electronic data from each other and infrastructure. In the event of specific hazardous traffic scenarios, such as an impending collision at a blind intersection, a vehicle changing lanes in another vehicle’s blind spot, or a potential rear end collision with a stopped vehicle, the data will be translated into a warning for the driver of the relevant vehicle or vehicles.

“Vehicle-to-vehicle communication has the potential to be the ultimate game-changer in roadway safety – but we need to understand how to apply the technology in an effective way in the real world,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “NHTSA will use the valuable data from the ‘model deployment’ as it decides if and when these connected vehicle safety technologies should be incorporated into the fleet.”

GM, which is also working on a system that uses Wi-Fi Direct technology to add pedestrians and cyclists to the connected mix, says analysis of the data collected by the 3,000 vehicles could see V2V technology deployed on a wide scale before the end of the decade.

The model deployment is the second phase of the DoT’s connected vehicle Safety Pilot, which is part of a joint research initiative led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Research and Innovative Technologies Administration (RITA) Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. The first phase involved a series of “driver acceptance clinics,” which revealed that 9 out of 10 drivers that had experienced V2V technology thought highly of its safety benefits and would like the technology in their own vehicle.

Sources: DoT, RITA, GM, UMTRI