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Posted on Mon, May 14, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Connected vehicles: U-M seeking 3,000 Ann Arbor motorists for $18M wireless project to prevent collisions

By Kellie Woodhouse

Is there a future where vehicle crashes are drastically diminished?

That's the question the University of Michigan is seeking to answer as it launches an $18 million pilot program that will equip thousands of area cars, trucks and buses with devices that can communicate with one another and let drivers know if they're at risk of a collision.


Department of Transportation

The launch is part of a $22 million vehicle safety research project, which receives the bulk of its funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The project will assist researchers in figuring out how to prevent car crashes, which account for 34,000 fatalities and cost $240 billion annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"We can come really close," said program manager and associate research scientist Jim Sayer. "I don't know that we’ll fully eliminate crashes because people can do things intentionally sometimes, but I do think we can come really close to eliminating crashes."

The U-M Transportation and Research Institute is seeking 3,000 motorists who frequently drive around Northeast Ann Arbor to participate in the study. During a year-long period, participants' cars will be installed with wireless communication devices that securely transmit and receive vehicle data such as position and speed. Those systems can alert drivers to unexpected vehicle movements, including cars that erratically brake and sudden lane changes or mergers.

Meanwhile, similar devices will be installed at several public intersections, three curve locations and five freeway sites. Those devices will be able to track the number of vehicles in an area, along with factors such as speed and traffic congestion. The goal, according to Sayer, is to facilitate "dynamic real-time timing of traffic signals," although signal moderation isn't a part of the initial pilot program.

The launch will test the reliability of the communication systems and how users respond to the technology. For example, some vehicles will be equipped with devices that communicate traffic and vehicle threats using a specific audible tones and others will combine tones with visual alerts. Researchers will compare which types of communications drivers perceive as most effectual. They'll also test the timing of possible collision warnings.

Want to participate?

"There are differences in the ways that the threat is calculated," Sayer explained. "So we also want to find out what drivers think about the timing of the warning."

The scope and breadth of the project sets it apart from other vehicle safety research programs. In Europe researchers are testing wireless communication systems in vehicle to reduce traffic and in Japan researchers are also testing wireless systems using a vehicle sample size of over 3,000, but Sayer says "there's nothing of this size in North and South America."

"We want to demonstrate this technology, that it's feasible and that it operates in a real-world, multimodal environment," Sayer said. "There's been a lot of work on this type of system on test tracks and a handful of cars have gone on the road under ideal conditions, but (not for) 12 continuous months."

Drivers that participate will be given $100, which they can pocket or donate to Ann Arbor Public Schools, and will need to designate an hour for installment, three 20-minute check-up appointments throughout the year and an other hour at the end of the year so engineers can uninstall the device. They'll need to live in, work in or frequent Northeast Ann Arbor. The pilot area is defined by M-14/US-23 to the north, US-23 to the east, as from Washtenaw Avenue to the south, and west to Main Street.

Most volunteers will have the devices installed in their vehicles, but 128 volunteers will be given one of nine new vehicle models already equipped with the device to drive for the year.

The project's success, Sayer said, is dependent on reaching a reliable sample size.

"The biggest single challenge is the recruitment," he said. "Getting the right number of drivers to participate and the right number of interactions, and just having enough vehicles in close proximity to one another such that they can communicate, (is key)."

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Jim Osborn

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:56 p.m.

Some states require licensed drivers to re-take the written test every 4 years when they renew their license. This makes them read the driver's handbook and become re-acquainted with the laws of the road and new laws that have been passed in since their last license renewal. Michigan doesn't require this and I'm appalled at the lack of rules-of-the road knowledge of many drivers in this state. I have not been required to take a written test in 15 years. Ann Arbor drivers, and visitors, would need a special test, since this city's rules are different from the rest of the state, and the world, and common sense.

Jim Osborn

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 9:36 p.m.

@"Clownfish" (how about your real name?) You missed the point. It is not "special drivers" your quotes, not mine, I never mentioned "special drivers" , I did mention special laws, including the crosswalk rule. Ann Arbor's laws should be identical to those in the rest of the rest of the state.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Please! I agree that our licensing is too easy, but if you think A2 is somehow special when it comes to "special" drivers, go spend some time on I-696, Woodward Ave or most places in Chicago.

Silly Sally

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:38 p.m.

Oh No! Will it discover the untamed spots on the highways where we can still go fast w/o fear of seeing a state trooper? 94 on I-94 Please post where these 5 spots will be.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

Drive responsibly and the fear will go away.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:25 p.m.

Will the signals interfere with regular texting on my phone?


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 4:30 a.m.

Shouldn't that be "an hour for installation," rather than installment?


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:37 a.m.

This is as stupid as federal tac dollar waste can get.... Besides, who are the Northeast Liberal Allstars that would sign up for this boondoggle and sink their liberty in the tar pit of Obsma Administration deficits? Perhaps Zingermans should come up with a sandwich named after these lemmings..,


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

Possibly the same people that signed up for the boondoggle and sank their liberty in the tar pit of Bush Administration deficits. Although, that was for war and destruction and this is for advancement.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

Yep. Like the feds wasting research dollars on the internet. I know somebody as opposed to the feds doing stupid things like that would NEVER use the technology that spins off from such projects.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

Yeah, using tax dollars to save lives and money is totally a waste. You of course know all about the program and what the results will be. Research is the life blood of an advanced society. Any person who knows anything about cars and driving safety knows it is WAY safer to drive today than it ever has been. That is purely on technology. As usual the right wing is against advancement. They would have killed the space program and the "wasted" money spent to develop the internet.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:17 a.m.

It would be safer and cheaper to just have texting disabled when the vehicle is in motion. Same trigger that locks all the doors in these newer cars. OR, just have a looped recording of someone saying authoritatively "HEY! stop texting and pay attention to the road!" We could probably use this on speakers mounted at every intersection for the pedestrians too. It's funny when you see the kids almost break an ankle walking off a curb because their face was buried in the texting. It immediately becomes sad, though, when you see them recover and put their face right back in it and continue walking. That is really sad.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:09 a.m.

I have to giggle with this. A bus? Big grin.....maybe we should give some school bus drivers a few of these. This would be a hoot. I am not sure I would want to be the guinea pig for this one. But it might be fun.

Stephen Landes

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

Here's a company link for the CITE facility:

Stephen Landes

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

I sure hope these folks test out this technology in a location like CITE in New Mexico; a "ghost city" being built for the purpose of testing technology just like what is described in this article in a controlled setting where no one can be hurt and no city can be inconvenienced with something that hasn't been extensively field tested.

Stephen Landes

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 11:44 p.m.

From the Sky News article: A "world first" $1bn scientific ghost city will be built in New Mexico to test the latest next-generation technology. Researchers will use the facility in Lea County, near Hobbs, to look at everything from intelligent traffic systems and next-generation wireless networks to automated washing machines and self-flushing toilets. The town will be modelled on the real city of Rock Hill, South Carolina, complete with roads, houses and commercial buildings, old and new. No one will live there, although they could as houses will include all the necessities, like appliances and plumbing. The point of the town is to enable researchers to test new technologies on existing infrastructure without interfering in everyday life.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

The device notifies the driver by texting them a warning.

David Cahill

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 11:24 p.m.

Sabra and I have both signed up for this neat project.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : noon

I don't live in the defined area :( I hope there will be a site the public can see where you can post your observations so I can live through the project vicariously.

Macabre Sunset

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 10:46 p.m.

I'm afraid, given Ann Arbor politics, that a "real-time" system for controlling traffic lights would only ensure that lights will turn red just as you approach. Then they'll hit you with a ticket for idling. I'm also concerned that this system could be used to enforce speed limits down the road. Big Brother is always looking for a way to watch you. While all of this is great, in theory, will any car company be willing to implement a system that actually can take over your steering wheel? The liability should such a system cause an accident (and we know lawyers, given the right jury, can always sock it to the big guy) would be enormous.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

I am looking for thousands of drivers who want to have their brains re-attached before entering their vehicles. This should reduce crashes significantly. But seriously folks...what we need is a more stringent system for licensing. It is far too easy to obtain a drivers license. I am constantly appalled at the lack of basic driving skills and understanding of the rules of the road. If we are going to keep the "points" system, at 6 points one should be placed in remedial driving school. Licenses should be pulled at 9, not maybe 12, or lets see if you can get to 15 points. Just remember folks, you are no more special than anyone else. If you are about to miss your exit, don't cut me off, go to the next one. Drive the speed limit, it really isn't that hard. Don't tailgate me, I am not going to go any faster because you don't know how to budget your time. PAY ATTENTION! No texting, no reading, don't eat a cheeseburger and fries while driving a 3000+ lb missile. Basic. No study needed.

Ann English

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

If there's anyplace where ALL my attention is focused on the road ahead of me, it's southbound US-23 between M-14 and Washtenaw. With one lane closed, and part of my own, I focus on what's directly ahead and how the car ahead of me is doing, not even a second on my dashboard (gas gauge, speedometer). It's a rule of thumb: the narrower the road/lane you're in, the slower a safe, reasonable speed is. They have signs posting the speed limit as 60 mph on that stretch of US-23, and it isn't just for when workers are present. If you want to change lanes, it's better to signal your intentions than to keep looking in your rearview mirrors for an opening, taking your eyes off what is directly ahead of you.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:33 a.m.

I agree with the part about not thinking you're more special than anyone else. It amazes me the lengths people will go to make a turn or a lane change at the very last second instead of serving their penance by going down the block and looping around or waiting for someone to let them in.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 10:52 p.m.

This post is absolutely 100% spot on, and I couldn't agree more! And the fact that I'm agreeing with clownfish could only be a harbinger of the coming apocalypse. Dogs and cats living together, MASS HYSTERIA!


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

Maybe I'm wrong but even with technology in involved I don't expect but a few accidents to not happen. Don't you think that most accidents are caused by drunk drivers who have no concept of what they are doing in the first place? If they did they wouldn't be driving. As in driving the wrong direction on a highway. Traveling down the road at 50mph and seeing the light turning yellow and gunning it to get across before red. Those distracted heading into that intersection and not seeing the traffic light changing.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:28 a.m.

I've had plenty of near run-ins in the middle of day on Washtenaw between Stadium and campus where the road gets narrow. Even folks with eyes on the road can drift over a little bit.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:04 p.m.

Actually, most accidents are caused by sober drivers who think they are the next Mario Andretti.

David Paris

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

Wouldn't it be great if this system could be installed on all motorcycles, bicycles, and squirrels so that the excuse "I didn't see them" becomes obsolete!


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

Don't forget the deer.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 8:06 p.m.

Do I get an aluminum foil hat to protect me from all the stray 'trons?


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:46 p.m.

I really hate the idea of this. If we can't control our own vehicles ourselves, then we don't deserve to drive them.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:34 p.m.

Your eyes will also alert you when another vehicle gets to close, but they have to be open and paying attention to the road. Texting is really getting out of control.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:33 p.m.

Well, they certainly picked the right part of town to study bad drivers and traffic accidents...

Silly Sally

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

Why? Is it the large number of foreign drivers, who somehow managed to get a driver's license, or the large numbers of texting-while-driving types, or both?


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:28 p.m.

If you don't use ATT for messaging, you will find out about the potential accident 27 seconds after it happened.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.

Pedestrians? Cyclists? Motorcyclists? The Google approach is better - their system automatically detects other road users and responds safely and legally.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 10:22 p.m.

A car operated by software. Gee, what could possibly go wrong with that?


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:17 p.m.

If your looking for the URL to sign up. Her it is -


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 11:34 p.m.



Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

So... who would we contact if interested in participating?