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A Vision for Headlight Communications

Cars could someday communicate with other vehicles and traffic signals using their lights.
June 19, 2009
Intel researchers showed off several new projects at the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, CA, yesterday. One project, demonstrated by researcher Vu Nguyen, illustrates how Intel is thinking about computerized cars.

The demo consisted of a dashboard containing an Atom processor and wireless radios to communicate with devices, such as MP3 players, cell phones, or laptops, which might come into the car with passengers. In addition to talking to objects within the car, the built-in PC can talk to objects outside the vehicle, including other cars and even traffic signals, thanks to a clever approach developed by the researchers. Nguyen explains that it would be relatively inexpensive to add photodetectors to the headlights of cars so that they could “see” the brake lights of cars in front of them as well as LED-based traffic signals.

In Thursday’s demonstration, Nguyen showed that when a traffic light or brake light fitted with a modulator–a device that flickers light to send a signal–sends a message, a photodetector in a car’s headlight can pick up the signal and act accordingly.

So what does that mean? If you’re quickly approaching an intersection where the light is red, or approaching a car with its brake lights on, a voice from the dashboard would warn you to slow down. And if you don’t stop, says Nguyen, the car itself might automatically apply the brakes. He adds that other Intel research projects are investigating how to implement these sorts of technologies while considering human behavior. Not everyone will have the same level of tolerance for an automated (and omnipotent) backseat driver, he says.


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