Talking tail lights could lead to safer roads

Smarter headlights could guide you out of a rainstorm, but intelligent tail lights could enable communication between vehicles. At least, that's the idea behind a collaborative Connected Vehicle Safety project between Intel and National Taiwan University. Its purpose is so that you'll be able to know just what the vehicles around you are up to -- whether they're speeding or braking or making a left -- by receiving data from their tail lights. Your vehicle could then stop or accelerate automatically without you needing to intervene, or you could choose to react manually if desired. We saw a demonstration of the concept at a Research @ Intel event in San Francisco with a couple of scooters, so head on past the break to learn how it all works, with video to boot.

Both scooters in the demo are hooked up to a laptop running GNU radio and Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP), but we were told that in real-world applications, a palm-sized microcontroller would be sufficient. The front scooter has a VLC FrontEnd board that talks to the tail light, while the rear scooter has a photo diode with a 120-degree viewing angle mounted underneath its handlebars. The diode would be able to use the receiving signal strength from vehicles around it to determine which is closest. Modulation of the tail light flashing frequency prevents interference and allows multiple vehicles to be tracked simultaneously.

In the demo, we saw that when the front scooter hit the brakes, the smartphone mounted on the rear scooter showed a red square. Similarly, when the front scooter made a left turn signal, a left arrow appeared on the display. Divya Kolar, a technology evangelist at Intel, told us that when all of this information is collated together, it'll be able to transmit the traffic patterns to the cloud so that others not in the same vicinity can learn from it and change their routes appropriately. Of course, this is still all in the research stage, so we likely won't see this in our vehicles any time soon. Check out the video below if you want glimpse of our connected vehicle future.

Michael Gorman contributed to this report.

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Intel Labs developing 'talking' tail lights for safer roads, we go eyes-on (video)