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Smart infrastructure for roadside-to-vehicle communication

A recent study in Great Britain found that one in three drivers has had an accident or a near miss due to being distracted by road signs. 

SinWaves, a California company, is developing a wireless driver-alert system that delivers signage information without requiring drivers to take their eyes off the road.

“You can think of this as creating barcodes for street signs,” said SinWaves CEO Timothy Menard said. 

The data embedded in the sign is broadcast using an ultra-low-powered transmitter, and as a vehicle equipped with a reader passes by, the “message” embedded in the sign is read out. 

Since the communication is directly between a vehicle and the sign, there’s no reliance on internet or cellular connectivity.  “In the connected-car space, vehicle infrastructure has generally meant that you're going back to some kind of data backbone, an internet gateway,” Menard said. 

That, of course, requires connectivity.  Not so with SinWaves’ vehicle-to-roadside model.  “Vehicle-to-roadside means the data is right there,” he said.  “There is no backbone. There is no internet.”

One initial implementation SinWaves is exploring involves parking signs.  “How many times have you driven through a city, and there are four or five different ambiguous parking signs?” Menard asked.  Drivers may have to check what day of the week it is, what time it is and whether they are on the north or south side of the street to park legally.  With the SinWaves system, the vehicle’s reader deciphers the information from the signs and reports to the driver whether it’s legal to park. 

“It's not ambiguous,” he said.  “You get a quick indication of yes or no.”

The key to SinWaves’ technology is development of a communications protocol that maximizes the amount of data that can be transmitted using minimal power.  SinWaves’ goal is to ensure that the battery-powered devices attached to signs can operate for a minimum of 10 years.

The technology can also be applied to traffic lights, railroad crossings, construction zones and other roadside infrastructure.  Ultimately, Menard, said, the idea is to feed road environment data not just to drivers but also to autonomous vehicles. “Autonomous cars driving up to a four-way intersection are going to have to use image processing to determine if it's an intersection, if it is valid and what [their] maneuver is going to be,” Menard said. “When you have a digital sign, you break down this barrier to entry. There is authentic information immediately before you approach that intersection, so now there's no more guesswork.” 

The vision behind the SinWaves technology, Menard said, is that of populating the roadside infrastructure with “raindrops” of data.  “We are putting little specks of data out there so that you don't have to go into servers that could be in some other part of the world,” he said.  Instead, he said, the data “is where you need it in absolute real time so the vehicles can go back to other high-priority tasks.”

According to Menard, the company’s roadside unit -- which is being developed under a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation -- is currently in its  first trials at the University of California, Irvine. SinWave expects to launch larger pilot programs by the end of the year.

Posted by Patrick Marshall on May 11, 2017 at 1:59 PM


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