Honda to Use Mobile Phones for Car Safety

Mobile phone use has caused many car accidents, but now an automaker sees a way phones could be used to prevent crashes.

Honda is introducing two new safety systems that alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians and motorcyclists using signals emitted by their mobile phones. The systems use Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC), the same type of technology currently used to collect some highway tolls and planned for future vehicle-to-vehicle safety systems.

When an approaching pedestrian is sensed by the system, which uses the GPS from the pedestrian’s phone, a warning sounds in the car and an alert is sent to the pedestrian’s phone. The car warning even lets the driver know whether the pedestrian is on the phone, texting or listening to music, which strikes some critics as invasive and unnecessary.

In the case of motorcyclists, a warning sounds in the vehicle but no alert is sent to the motorcyclist’s phone. The system could help warn drivers of pedestrians and motorcyclists who are hidden from view, for example a pedestrian who is about to step out from between two parked cars.

When the system senses a pedestrian or motorcyclist, it calculates the risk of a collision. If a risk is detected, then alarms sound in the vehicle and a display flashes reading “brake.” The pedestrian’s cell phone gets a message reading “watch out” and a honking sound.

The system is similar to one unveiled by General Motors last year, except that the GM system uses WiFi Direct to detect pedestrians, rather than DSRC.

Both systems have obstacles to overcome before they will be widely useful. In the case of GM’s system, most cell phones are equipped with WiFi Direct, but if users do not download GM’s app, they will not be detected by GM cars. In Honda’s case, DSRC is not usually found in cell phones, so the automaker would have to convince manufacturers to include the technology in future handsets.

Of course, neither system does anything to protect a pedestrian or motorcyclist who is not carrying a cell phone.

The new technologies are still in the experimental phase, and are part of a wave of advances focusing on so-called active safety, such as warnings of collisions ahead of the driver or lane-departure warnings. Honda sees the wireless technologies as a feature that could become widely available in vehicles, in contrast to built-in sensors and backup cameras that are only available on higher-end models.

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