Highway Wi-Fi coming to area

If chasing down “bad guys” and giving pick-up lines with your car, à la KITT on the television series “Knight Rider,” is your idea of smart vehicle technology, you may have to wait a while. But real-time accident information, automated emergency braking and the ability to download music could soon be at drivers’ fingertips under a wireless Internet network being developed to stretch across the Peninsula.

So-called smart vehicle technology could greatly improve safety and convenience in a state that experiences 4,300 deaths and about 293,000 injuries each year from car accidents, according to experts. The effort to expand the technology beyond a dozen early test sites located around Palo Alto is under way, according to Chuhee Lee, senior staff engineer with Volkswagen.

Volkswagen, Daimler-Chrysler and others are developing technology that will be installed as part of a wireless network stretching across the Peninsula and south into Silicon Valley, according to Seth Fearey, vice president and COO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network, the nonprofit overseeing the network’s installation.

“We hope these technologies can be used to improve our safety and improve the flow of traffic in Silicon Valley,” Fearey said.

The network, mostly promoted for its ability to allow people to surf the Web on their laptops from a park bench, could also allow drivers to access commuter Web sites such as 511.org for drive times and brake when they are about to run a red light, Fearey said.

Engineers are working out the kinks to ensure that different users don’t interfere with one another, he said.

By sharing onboard sensor data with transponders on traffic signals, at toll gates, along roadways and in other vehicles, drivers will know what’s going on around them over a 900-foot radius, Lee said.

Improved entertainment options also could be just a click away, Lee said. Drivers heading out for a long drive could download MP3s or movies, Lee said.

Testing of up to 40 transponders along El Camino Real and U.S. Highway 101 from San Jose to San Francisco is expected to occur this summer, Lee said. The results will be forwarded to the federal Department of Transportation, which must give final approval for a broader role, hopefully by 2008, Lee said.

Making more efficient use of the existing road capacity is what the project is all about, said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which is a partner.

Possibilities abound

Various automakers are developing so-called smart vehicle technology that utilizes a wireless Internet network across the Peninsula. If implemented, drivers will able to receive information on:

» Travel time and accident notices

» Updated data from sources such as 511.org

» Intersection safety

» Information from traffic signals on the speed limit

» Countdown until traffic light changes

» Notification if driver is about to run a light

» Car-to-car information sharing

» Data about location, braking and changing lanes in order to avoid collisions

» Point-of-interest information

» Times on movie listings and addresses for nearby restaurants

» Entertainment

» Ability to download MP3s or movies at a convenience store

– Source: Chuhee Lee, senior staff engineer with Volkswagen, and Seth Fearey, VP and COO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network.

ecarpenter@examiner.com


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