As Executive Director of Advocacy and Policy for the National Federation of the Blind, Paré knows that AVs will offer freedom and mobility to the visually impaired. As he rode along with an engineer, he felt safe and comfortable. The car drove itself admirably. Then they hit a glitch. Halfway through the demo, the car moved into to the left lane to make a U-turn. And there it sat. A delivery van had pulled up in the middle lane alongside. The car's sensors, the engineer explained, wouldn't move because the van blocked its view of oncoming traffic. It was, in a word, blinded.
Eventually, the van moved off and the AV went on its way. What would have happened though if the van had stayed put, perhaps double parked? I imagine poor Mr. Paré still out there awaiting rescue because of a simple obstruction. More seriously, I imagine a small child hidden between two parked cars about to dart into the road. No matter how vigilant its algorithm and how powerful its sensors, by the time the car sees the kid, it will be too late.
But what if a chip embedded in that hidden child's sneakers could talk to the vehicle? Unlike fully autonomous vehicles, which remain just over the horizon, the technology to let vehicles communicate — known as V2X — has been around for 20 years. It's been tested, validated, and deployed in a form known as Dedicated Short-Range Communications. DSRC is a fancy term for what amounts a souped-up version of the walkie-talkies kids play with. DSRC devices broadcast basic safety messages, ten times a second, to a distance of up to 500 yards. They communicate vehicle speed, location, and events such as hard braking. Elements of the road infrastructure can converse with cars as well. "I'm about to turn red," a stale green traffic signal might warn. The U.S. Department of Transportation says DSRC will reduce unimpaired vehicle crashes by 80 percent. That safety benefit accrues even if AVs never arrive.
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