It’s always when you’re in a hurry, isn’t it? Every traffic light goes red as you drive towards it. Every. Single. One. It’s unbelievable.
But here’s something you can believe. In future, your car will tell you how fast to drive in order to reach every single traffic light when it’s green. It’ll also tell you when you’re about about to hit a traffic jam (hopefully in time for the satnav to recalculate), when there’s an ambulance coming up behind you and when you’re about to hit a patch of black ice. How? Read on…
802.11p – the new Wi-Fi for cars
You’ve heard of wireless b, g and and n (perhaps even newfangled ac), shorthand for the IEEE standards used for Wi-Fi products. But you may not know about wireless p, the designation for “wireless access in vehicular environments” (WAVE). That’s to say it’s just for cars and traffic infrastructure to communicate with each other. Oh, and it's not as big as this bootful of clutter - that's just some prototype kit that'll be shrunk to a tiny circuit for production.
What makes 802.11p exciting is that it doesn’t need to go through the relatively lengthy conversation your laptop has with the router every time it wants something from the internet. That means two cars that can “see” each other (no third-party network required) can strike up a digital conversation immediately. They don’t even need to use Skype.
What did one car say to the other?
The idea of cars talking to each other may belong in the present to Lightning McQueen and Holly Shiftwell, but in future your motor will be chatting to its fellow four-wheelers (and two) on a regular basis. It’ll probably be a bit more highbrow than a script-by-numbers Disney animation, too.
When a car ahead breaks down or hits a traffic jam, it’ll be able to send a warning signal to other 802.11p connected cars on the same road (even just those in the same lane). Cars will also be able to use friction data from their wheels to warn approaching cars of ice patches or other slip hazards. And once that patch thaws, your car will be able to report back with the all-clear. You needn’t lift a finger. Maybe just lift your right foot a bit when the warning systems go off, eh?
Red light, green light
So, those red lights we all hate… well, they won’t stop going red. But they will talk to your car. So, if you do stop at a red light, it’ll give you a countdown to green on the dashboard – and ping you a five-second warning before the car behind does.
Better still, Volvo has developed a glowing range on its speedometers that’ll tell you the optimum speed to drive so you’ll get to the next traffic light when it’s green.
When’s it all happening?
It’s happening now. This week, we got to drive one of Volvo’s Car2Car test vehicles on a track with prototype traffic lights, a prototype Swedish police car and a pretty scary slip track.
Of course, it’ll take a while for infrastructure (ie. lights) to catch up to the cars, but you can expect your car to strike up a conversation with something else at the traffic party before the decade is out.
Volvo is also pioneering street legal self-driving cars. Check out our test drive of the new technology.
All images and video courtesy of Volvo