Recently I built the LuxBlaster, a robot that monitors and tracks intense light sources coming from behind a car. When the intensity of the light source increases beyond a predetermined threshold (e.g. blinding light), the LuxBlaster will blast a warning light to the driver behind to lower his/hear high beam in the same manner we flash incoming car drivers who blast their high beams.
The LuxBlaster prototype was my scifi response to road bullies who use their headlight as a weapon to intimidate other drivers instead of their intended purpose of improving visibility at night. The LuxBlaster was a lab-only robot for workshop demo purposes but it generated unexpected reactions.
To my surprise, the LuxBlaster video went viral reaching 200,000 viewers in 5 days. Angry motorists exchanged barbed comments online. So many drivers suffered the abuse of road bullies who use their high beam to disorient and to intimidate. But on the other hand there were legitimate complaints of inconsiderate motorists who drive leisurely ignoring the traffic jam behind them.
And while the LuxBlaster was never intended to be a real product to be installed in automobiles, drivers on both sides of the high beam divide greeted the LuxBlaster as if it were a real product that can make an impact. Some welcomed the LuxBlaster as a savior but others were intensely hostile, despite my repeated mentions that this is not a product to be used on the road.
It then hit me. We are so dependent on technology to solve our problems yet in the case of automakers, we have been let down by their failure to use mainstream communications technology to improve road safety.
The technology exists to improve driver-driver and car-car communications yet lack of adoption by automakers leaves motorists stuck using primitive modes of communications such as flashing high beams and honking.
Cars have advanced technologically on many fronts mainly luxury and fuel efficiency, yet the means by which drivers and cars communicate and network on the road to improve driving safety remain mysteriously primitive.
Outside the car, we have an array of technologies to aid in person to person communications such as video, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi GSM and more yet the moment we step inside the car and start to move, we are only permitted to honk, wink, or blink.
As an IT person I know the importance of backward compatibility. But what automakers are pursuing in on the road communications is pure backwardness.
Today, a car is a fortified moving metal container and only sign language is permitted with the outside world. Not much has changed in this regard since the Benz "Velo" was made in 1894.
We have so many proposed automobile innovations to aid on the road communications between drivers and cars yet very little of this technology has made it to mainstream cars.
The Frankfurt Motor Show of 2013 showcased a number of car innovations, mostly expensive and geared at luxury. Very few practical innovations were introduced in terms of networking and communications between drivers.
This is where visionary policymakers as well as consumer safety groups must step in and propose/require technological milestones for automakers to enhance car-car and driver-driver networking and communications to reduce accidents and increase road safety.
Here's a simple auto innovation: the auto black box that constantly registers a car's vitals and logs inertial data to be retrieved and analyzed in case of an accident or legal situation. In case of a hit/run, for example, the black box can capture the wirelessly transmitted ID of the offending car which also has a black box with time stamp data revealing its exact location and inertial data such as speed and acceleration at a given time.
What about smart headlights that lower their beam the closer they are to another car. Proximity sensors that provide feedback while driving to warn of dangerously close objects such as nearby cars or pedestrians. Video cameras that monitor a car's blind spots. Many of these technologies exist but they are not mandatory.
The drop in price of quality sensors and portable AV systems calls for a cost/benefit analysis to determine the viability and benefit of requiring automakers to include these technologies in all passenger cars.
Privacy concerns must be addressed but these technologies won't be more intrusive on privacy than the average smart phone or PC. Except that we have the added benefit of saving lives and reducing insurance premiums.
Even if automakers are not interested in technology-based road safety, smartphone developers can capitalize on the sophistication of inertial and location sensors built into newer smart phones as well as the built-in phone communications protocols to aid in on the road networking with other drivers to increase safety.
Automakers have no incentive to take the leap into car-car networking or driver-driver communications technologies because of the cost of R&D. But when government makes this technology policy, it becomes a level-playing field for all automakers.