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Carmakers may need to cooperate for wireless safety tech rollout

Posting in Design

Preventing car crashes through wireless car tracking is already possible. But the challenges of implementing the tech may require car manufacturers to hold hands and work together.

The technology to hardwire safety features into vehicles that, for example, keep track of nearby cars to reduce minor collisions, is mostly here. Both BMW and Ford have announced details for such wireless safety features. Companies demonstrated such cooperative, wireless systems at the Intelligent Transportation Society World Congress back in 2005. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has even released a report suggesting that such systems could prevent 80 percent of minor crashes that don't involve drunk drivers.

So why don't we have it yet?

Over at Mashable, former car designer Steve Tengler compiled a list of the challenges facing the widespread implementation of such connected safety systems.

And one of the main problems is that, for the technology to be effective, it needs to have mass uptake in new and old car models. But it's hard to start that revolution, and no one wants to be first out of the gate.

Let’s imagine you are a leading automotive manufacturer that holds 20% of the U.S. market. That market is projected to reach 14 million vehicles in 2012. Considering there are over 250 million vehicles on the road, you could potentially communicate with 1.1% of the vehicles after just one year, assuming you installed the $200-$300 worth of equipment on all of your vehicles.

The first customer to purchase a wireless device creates the equivalent of a tree falling in an unoccupied forest. How satisfied will he or she be? If there’s no one else with whom to communicate, then not very satisfied at all. And how differentiating will that system be when all other automotive companies introduce systems that communicate the same information as your breakthrough device? Again, not at all. The moral to this story? In this case, being first has few rewards.

And that's just talking about new models. Unless there is enough widespread uptake at launch, how could you convince owners of older cars to dish out hundreds of dollars to install the tech in their vehicles?

One of Tengler's solutions is massive cooperation between car companies. If they spun a lot of hype around the technology and wireless safety features came standard in all models, "co-launching the system with one or two other vehicle manufacturers could easily result in 50-60% market penetration," he wrote. However, it's unclear whether that is enough to carry the tech to older models, which would make the safety systems actually useful.

So get on it, car manufacturers, and get some value out of your tech investment before driverless vehicles hit the market.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Hannah Waters

Weekend Editor

Weekend Editor Hannah Waters is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. She writes a blog on the Scientific American network, and has written for Nature Medicine and The Scientist. She holds Biology and Latin degrees from Carleton College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure