Mcity uses DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications), a system that lets cars communicate with each other and with traffic lights, parking spaces, and other infrastructure elements. DSRC-equipped cars continuously broadcast their location, speed, and direction, using wireless radio signals a bit like beefed-up wi-fi.
The cars also listen for signals from other vehicles within a range of about 1,000 feet. So cars with DSRC can “hear” around corners for approaching vehicles or get an early warning if a car ahead stops short.
“We believe [DSRC] connected vehicles are cheaper and safer than autonomous vehicles alone,” says Huei Peng, Mcity’s director. “Imagine fire trucks or ambulances with DSRC that tell traffic lights for cross traffic to stay red, allowing them to zoom right through.”
Mcity has developed just such stoplights, which can even tell human (or robot) drivers when they’ll change. A computer-controlled car might turn off its engine during a long red, for example, or avoid a sudden stop if a green light turns yellow.
PUSHING A NEW STANDARD
At the moment, only one U.S. production vehicle — the 2017 Cadillac CTS — comes with DSRC. Mercedes-Benz and BMW have similar systems that use cellular signals, but there seems to be little enthusiasm among carmakers to move to a single standard.
By demonstrating systems like the smart traffic lights that benefit cities and drivers alike, Mcity hopes to encourage the deployment of DSRC and make it a must-have feature for future vehicles. In the meantime, the system will allow Mcity to put cars in dangerous situations with virtual trucks, trains and pedestrians, without the risk of real accidents.
“They are developing the cars of the future in a safe space,” says Kirk Steudle, “so that instead of just having them popping out on the road, we can all be prepared ahead of time.”