General Motors recently announced a new addition to its line of vehicles: a pedestrian detection system that uses a peer-to-peer wireless technology to alert the driver to nearby pedestrians in hopes of avoiding deadly collisions. Essentially, this system will allow the car’s onboard computer to detect wi-fi signals from surrounding wireless devices. As the image below illustrates, these signals could be used to warn the driver of pedestrians heading near the vehicle. Presumably the technology would also enable the pedestrian’s device to warn him/her of oncoming cars.
At this point, many reading about this technology may be thinking about how it will actually work. Developers will need to craft algorithms that will alert a user only when there is a viable threat, for example, alerting a vehicle when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk that the vehicle is approaching at rapid speed, while not triggering an alert when the pedestrian is mere feet away, standing on the street corner.
However, this technology also highlights a growing trend that is relevant for public safety communications. As we described earlier in the context of geo-targeting of alerts, peer-to-peer communications are booming in commercial industry. Advertisers are using these technologies to target coupons and ads, and the auto industry is now commercializing them in the name of public safety (and to sell a few cars along the way).
Existing alert and warning systems, like the Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS, also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts), disseminate alerts through an central infrastructure out to recipients (in the case of CMAS, alerts travel over commercial mobile networks). However, peer-to-peer technologies like Wi-Fi Direct have the potential to aid in the dissemination of the alert between two users, letting one recipient’s device relay the message to another’s that did not receive it. This approach avoids the risk of infrastructure failure, such as a wireless network crash or poor cell coverage.
It is still relatively early in the maturity of these technologies, but watch for greater attention to be paid to them as the focus on survivability, reliability, and resilience continues to increase.