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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 March 2007, 12:57 GMT
Vehicle warning system trialled
By Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News website

Traffic on the M42
Cars or bikes will pass useful information to vehicles behind them
Vehicles may soon be swapping information about road conditions to warn drivers about jams and dangers.

A German research project on show at hi-tech trade fair Cebit envisions a peer-to-peer network for vehicles on a road passing data back and forth.

Cars or bikes experiencing problems would pass data that would ripple down the chain of vehicles behind them.

Information would be conveyed to drivers via a dashboard screen or through a mobile phone headset.

Dr Anselm Blocher - a researcher at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence who is co-ordinating the project - said the ad hoc communication system could mean that drivers found out about dangers or jams ahead much more quickly than they do now.

For spotting dangers and jams, the system would use data from sensors that were likely to be fitted to cars, bikes and trucks in the future, Dr Blocher added.

When the motorbike comes after to the point of danger, information has been spread out by wireless network and the danger will be propagated to the driver in the motorbike
Dr Anselm Blocher

For example, cars could spot oil on the road by combining temperature readings with wheel traction information, he said.

A wheel slipping on the road even though the temperature was not low enough for frost or ice would suggest oil or another slippery substance was present.

Once a car detected this sort of danger, information about it would be generated and passed down the line of vehicles approaching the patch of oil.

"When the motorbike comes after to the point of danger, information has been spread out by wireless network and the danger will be propagated to the driver in the motorbike," said Dr Blocher.

Dashboard warning

The system was smart enough to recognise how busy a driver was and would adjust warnings to take account of the "cognitive load" a driver was under, he said.

If a driver was executing a series of fast manoeuvres, such as a motorbike driver leaning to go fast round a bend, the system would not use a blaring alarm to warn them of the upcoming oil patch.

Instead, he said, it might generate a warning on the dashboard of the bike or mark the danger point on a digital map.

By contrast, if a driver was driving at low speed along a straight road, the system may use visual cues on a dashboard screen as well as telling the driver about the problem via a headset.

As well as giving information about dangers, drivers could also ask the SmartWeb system for information about traffic jams, speed traps, parking availability and other problems in natural language.

Starting a query would kick off a web search for the area a car was travelling through which would generates requests to vehicles ahead or nearby.

The SmartWeb project is being co-ordinated by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence but has 16 other partners including BMW, Siemens, Daimler Chrysler, Deutsche Telekom and the European Media Lab.

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