M2M in the automotive sector is not limited to connecting cars with the web or telematics systems. A US initiative to get cars talking to each other could lead to a dramatic fall in road accidents.
The US Department of Transport's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that it is considering making vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology compulsory on US roads, confirming previous claims that it was aiming to make this happen as soon as 2017.
The NHTSA believes such technologies will make roads much safer, at the cost of around $350 per vehicle. "Safety is our top priority," said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who believes V2V could help drivers avoid up to 80 percent of accidents.
The principle is simple enough: Cars equipped with V2V technology are capable of maintaining constant communication with nearby vehicles using short-range radio signals. They send and receive this information ten times per second, sharing data on speed, proximity, car signaling and potentially threatening obstacles they find.
The notion is that drivers (or the cars themselves, if they are autonomous) can be kept out of trouble by their own car.
The NHTSA is particularly keen on two key applications of V2V technology, Left Turn Assist (LTA) and Intersection Movement Assist (IMA). It says these two measures alone could prevent over half a billion accidents and save 1,083 US lives each year, as revealed in its extensive report.
These technologies are designed to prevent collisions at intersections by warning drivers about what other vehicles may be doing, such as running a red light at an intersection or accelerating past a driver's blind spot.
"By warning drivers of imminent danger, V2V technology has the potential to dramatically improve highway safety," said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman.
Car manufacturer Volvo has listed several additional situations in which V2V could be useful, including:
· Emergency vehicle warnings
· Road works warning
· Communication with slow or broken-down vehicles
· Prior notice of traffic jams
· Weather data from cars further up the road
What's in the way of implementation is the need for an agreed set of standards. European auto manufacturer members of the CAR 2 CAR Communication Consortium are already working to agree a set of standards and shared technologies for V2V by 2016. US manufacturers are driving in the same direction with the Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment Program, which is blessed by the NHTSA.
While the US system described in the latest report is based on short-range radio, it seems probable that cellular services may also play some part, assuming data sharing deals and protocols to manage message congestion can be achieved. In the event V2V systems remain confined to short distance radio M2M implementations, they will continue to gather information that can be applied within the wider connected car industry.
This could have huge implications on road transit management, making it possible to identify dangerous patches of road, congestion and other common problems, with the added granular insight gathered from information as detailed as anonymised driver behaviors at a certain point over time.
The NHTSA isn't unique in championing the potential of connected vehicles. The ITU has also been exploring such implementations for some years, while the EU's eCall law means all new European cars sold will be connected starting in 2015. (More on this: M2M: The business case for connected cars).
The safety features will be attractive to most drivers, but privacy is important too. In the US at least the agency says the information shared by vehicles will not identify the cars or drivers, and that the system used will comprise several layers of security protection to maintain privacy and ensure vehicles can rely on the information they share and receive.
The report also discusses ways in which such systems may help relieve city congestion. That's not such a bad idea when you consider that in 2010, urban Americans wasted 4.8 billion hours and 1.9 billion gallons of fuel in congestion, or INRIX' claim that UK drivers spend up to three days each year in traffic jams.
In all these cases the implications and potential implementations for autonomous transportation are also remarkable: self-driving vehicles will be capable of intelligently taking themselves from distribution centre to retail outlets, and, unlike human haulage drivers, will be able to work 24/7. Rather like those drones being developed at Amazon.
I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.