Every year thousands of pedestrians are killed when struck by automobiles. But a new smartphone app from General Motors could change that; the only problem is that it probably won’t be ready for at least five years.
General Motors, one of the world’s biggest automotive manufacturers, says that in 2010 4,280 pedestrians and over six hundred cyclists were killed when hit by moving vehicles. It’s a startling statistic that GM hopes to see reduced with Wi-Fi Direct, a new smartphone app that sends a signal to all nearby vehicles.
Here’s how it works: pedestrians download the application to their smartphones, which constantly runs in the background whenever the device is turned on. Then, any vehicle equipped with a WiFi (wireless) communications system will detect that pedestrian whenever they are within 200 yards (about the length of two football fields).
It’s possible that GM’s new technology could help vehicles become aware of hundreds or even thousands of pedestrians and cyclists in a crowded downtown area.
Of course, there are many potential problems facing the technology. For one, it’s not yet clear how GM’s app will discern between pedestrians and pedestrians piloting a vehicle themselves.
Second, the technology could prove attractive to hackers. It’s impossible to know how much havoc could be wreaked if such a system’s security defenses were breached.
Third, smartphones and mobile service plans aren’t cheap, meaning lower-income neighborhoods may not see the desired results.
Nevertheless, if it proves successful there’s little doubt that Wi-Fi Direct would have a dramatically positive impact on the number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities reported each year.
The only bad news?
GM doesn’t believe that WiFi systems like this one will be available for cars or smartphones for quite a while. In fact, the company says it could be late in the decade before the average consumer gets a chance to use such technology.