If you spend a lot of time driving, or have a long commute, you’ll probably agree that the idea of self-driving cars is pretty compelling. People do a lot of stupid and dangerous things in cars, and with every year that passes, it seems like you take your life in your hands each time you head out onto the road. From distracted drivers staring at smartphones to NASCAR-wannabees cutting in and out of lanes in an effort to arrive at their destinations six seconds earlier, U.S. roads are becoming a more dangerous place.
It’s significant that distracted driving accidents have spiked sharply, and U.S. traffic deaths rose in 2012 for the first time in five years.
While self-driving cars are hardly right around the corner, a number of companies and consortiums have been experimenting with technology that allows cars to “talk” to each other so (essentially) they can avoid hitting one another. These car-to-car communication systems could also lead to traffic abatement and best-route navigation that could save on gas and emissions.
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The auto industry – most prominently Ford and Toyota and their technology partners and suppliers -- is being forced to defend its turf this week: that is, its Wi-Fi turf. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to propose rules next week that will allow new users into airwaves near those allocated since 1999 to developing car-to-car wireless communications. Car-to-car technology advocators worry that any interference will negatively affect systems that may be available in cars in the future.
Technology insiders worry the situation could become similar to that of LightSquared, a wholesale 4G LTE wireless broadband communications network integrated with satellite coverage whose services, initially approved by the FCC, used a block of frequencies located near the band used by the Global Positioning System (GPS). Evidence of potential interference with GPS systems ultimately caused the FCC to ban LightSquared’s proposed national broadband network. LightSquared filed for bankruptcy in May of last year.
“In a situation like LightSquared, what happened was the FCC got out ahead of itself,” Gregory Rohde, a former chief of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Commerce Department arm that oversees federal airwaves use, told Bloomberg News.
While the nation is hungry for more wireless and Wi-Fi bandwidth, auto industry spokespeople say this area is not the place to seek it, given the potential for car accidents from faulty systems or those overcome by interference. Automakers say the car-to-car technology could be installed in new cars at a cost of about $100 a vehicle, or sold as after-market devices.
Edited by Brooke Neuman