By 2014 cars will be able to talk to each other in such a way that they can alert other cars on the road of impending traffic, accidents or merely that an ambulance is on its way.
That’s the vision of NXP, a semiconductor company that is already behind the technology in your biometric passport and your future NFC (Near Field Communications) smartphone.
The concept - co-developed with Australian-based Cohda Wireless and called the C2X platform - that is already undergoing field trials rather than just a figment of someone’s imagination, aims to create a gigantic car-to-car network and car-to-infrastructure network so information can be quickly passed around.
C2X communication uses IEEE802.11p, a wireless standard designed specifically for automotive applications to communicate with each other (car-to-car) as well as with intelligent traffic infrastructure (car-to-infrastructure) in things like traffic lights or street lamps.
The newly developed C2X platform from NXP and Cohda actually "sees" around corners in order to recognise traffic blocks or risks before they are visible to the human eye.
Drivers therefore receive early warnings of cars hidden from sight behind trucks or approaching from around corners. Other use cases are warnings about emergency vehicles and traffic jams, or traffic light signals allowing drivers to adjust their speed and optimise driving.
Kurt Sievers, the general manager for NXP Automotive and the man in charge of the product, told Pocket-lint that it expects to have 10 per cent penetration of the technology that can be retro fitted to your current car by 2020, with an even earlier date for Japan as they are further down the road with automotive innovation.
That 10 per cent is important as it’s enough to actively affect the way the other 90 per cent of drivers and how they respond to incidents.
“Imagine a scenario where an ambulance automatically has traffic lights changed in its favour when rushing to the hospital because it, and the traffic lights in the city, are fitted with the chips and are able to talk to each other,” explains Sievers.
The box of tricks, around the size of a small shoe box (but will eventually be the size of a matchbox), comes with a GPS sensor, built-in mobile phone, and uses the new 802.11p wireless protocol rather than the current 802.11n - one you’ll find in the latest smartphones and laptops - to talk to other cars even at high speeds.
The choice to use 802.11p is to improve latency and means the module is able to talk to cars all around it up to ranges of 1.5km.
The system could eventually be used to even drive cars for you, says Sievers, although the man in charge believes this is some time off yet.
“It’s possible but are we ready for it,” he posed as we talked out the company’s vision for what cars will be able to do in the future.
“You already have automatic braking in cruise control in some cars. This is just an extension of that.”
But it’s not just pie in the sky thinking. Intrepid as ever, Pocket-lint has not only seen the new system in action, but been in a car with it working.
The demo, titled "the transparent truck" by NXP, showed to us on the streets of Eindhoven, Holland (the company’s home town) so that we could see what a car was doing further down the road even though we couldn’t physically see it because of a large truck in the way. When the car in front of the truck hit the brakes we got a warning allowing us to react if need be.
That warning, NXP hopes, will stop sudden traffic jams appearing for no reason as well as some of the examples outlined above.
Worry bots will of course immediately think of the security implications here. Would the police be able to stop your car if you were in a chase, or would someone be able to hack your car to do with it what they will?
NXP, perhaps realising this, says it won't be a problem. It points to the fact that they already make most of the security chip and pin encryption chips on your bank card and the security encryption on your bio-metric passport. If that isn't a seal of approval, we don’t know what is.
Of course further technical safeguards could be implemented adds Sievers, telling us you could easily give every car running the system an IP address that constantly changes - very much like your ISP does already with your home broadband.
As for those companies involved, NXP is reluctant to name names. However, it says that it's a good assumption that it would be working with those that have signed up to the SPITS (that’s Strategic Platform for Intelligent Traffic Systems). Currently that includes Audi, BMW, VW and other well other well-known car makers like Toyota.
Whoever brings it out first, it could be a while before you find yourself in such a vehicle but either way, it's certainly another step closer to a fully aware car of the future - presuming it's something we want to drive, of course.
What do you think of the idea of your car talking to other cars on the road? Let us know in the comments below.