Monday, February 15, 2010

Simple Technologies For Better Car Safety

I've been thinking about car accidents recently, or rather, about ways to prevent them.
I believe that at some point in the coming decades cars or whatever form of personalized transport we use will be fully computerized. Ultimately i do not think that regular public transportation will ever replace personalized transportation, but i do think we might have some form of automated point to point mass transportation system.

There are many different technologies currently being developed in the area of driving assistance, and some systems have even been implemented. Usually the way this works is that advancements are first implemented in luxury cars, and some of these technologies eventually become more widespread.
Some of these advancements involve various driving assistance systems, systems that "see" the road and can provide warnings and braking assistance in case the driver gets too close.

These technologies have a long way to go before they can be truly effective in preventing car accidents in common road cars. But i think that it is possible to implement some simpler technologies that may help us get closer to this future, and help us reduce car accidents in all cars.

Enhanced Brake Warning:
The first idea is to implement a slightly more sophisticated brake light system.
Current braking lights are pretty much boolean - on or off.
I think it shouldn't bee too complicated to have levels - say 3 levels (maybe even three lights) indicating "slow" brake "medium" brake and "hard" brake.
Modern cars have computers that control and monitor many of the car and engine functions, it shouldn't be too hard to implement a system that controls the brake light by the actual deceleration of the car instead of their current boolean implementation.
Why will this help? The way things work at the moment, when you see a brake light you don't know how quickly and how hard you need to brake. Your brain has to watch the car ahead and calculate the deceleration before you can decide how hard to brake. I think this period of time can be reduced and help prevent or reduce the damage in many accidents.

Inter-Car Signaling:
The Second idea is a little more complicated, but still in the not-too-hard category.
There are various radar and vision based technologies used to measure the distance and velocity of nearby vehicles. These are pretty expensive at the moment and don't work well enough to depend on.
It should be relatively cheap to implement the following:
If a standardized radio transmitter , broadcasting a low power signal with a known, well defined (and fixed) frequency and power. It should be relatively simple (and cheap) to roughly determine the distance between a receiver and a near by source. The idea is to optimize such a system to detect the distance between the receiver - your car - and the transmitter of the car ahead of you, behind you, and in your general area. to be affective and reduce interference the signal should be relatively weak and pretty directional.
By placing the transmitters in the corners of the car and designating a specific signature for each transmitter, it is possible to get a pretty good idea of the relative position of adjacent cars.
If we also broadcast the speed of the car using these transmitters we can very accurately know if a car ahead of us is braking, if there might be a car coming fast in our direction when crossing an intersection.

It should be pretty cheap to manufacture if standardized, and more importantly if mandated by governments. this kind of device can be easily installed on existing cars.
The system can be used for anything from advanced warnings for dangerous situations to actively engaging the brakes in dangerous situations - this last option would probably be only applicable to computer controlled cars.

I believe that the future of transportation is in more advanced version of computer controlled transportation. I think that computer controlled transportation can be far more efficient in traffic direction and possibly make car accidents a thing of the past.

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