Driver, the Road Would Like a Word with You

Five-one-one. Dial it and you'll get traffic reports updated every four minutes. At least that is the case in the San Francisco Bay area, where SpeedInfo ( has installed 300 solar-powered radar sensors to cover more than 900 miles of limited access highways. Working with Caltrans and the Bay area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), SpeedInfo deployed the sensors as part of a demo for the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) World Congress in November.

The SpeedInfo network measures average traffic speeds several times per minute and sends the data to a server via the Cingular wireless network, which then formats the data and delivers them to partners via the Internet. One of these partners is TrafficGauge Inc. (, which recently introduced its handheld Mobile Traffic Map to drivers in the Bay area. TrafficGauge is currently in use in Los Angeles and Seattle as well.

 This solar-powered SpeedInfo sensor is one of 300 measuring traffic speeds in the San Francisco area. (Photo: Business Wire)
This solar-powered SpeedInfo sensor is one of 300 measuring traffic speeds in the San Francisco area. (Photo: Business Wire)

Designed to be easy to remember, like 911 and 411, 511 provides free traffic, transit, ridesharing, and bicycling information. Part of a national rollout of 511 service, the Bay area's 511 phone and Web system is the largest in the country.

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Along similar lines, and also at ITS World Congress, NAVTEQ ( demonstrated its Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) technologies. VII calls itself "the wireless communication of safety, mobility, and commercial information among vehicles and the transportation infrastructure."

On a test track at the event, BMW and Volkswagen of America vehicle fleets hosted prototype vehicles that broadcast vehicle sensor data to the NAVTEQ processing center. Once processed, these data were broadcast and displayed on VII-enabled navigation systems in prototype vehicles. Motorola demonstrated the output of this processing through a Web site that displays the location and severity of road hazards on maps. The information is also available from the VII infrastructure and was delivered to Volkswagen's vehicle fleet.

NAVTEQ points out that processing real-time road information and linking it to the most accurate maps relevant to drivers' specific routes is essential. "This demonstration . . . takes VII technology beyond communication between the car and the road. It highlights the potential for a more 'personalized' conversation between the driver, the car, and the roadway," says John MacLeod of NAVTEQ.

A different type of traffic information system, this one from GM, hopes to replace sensor networks. Yes, General Motors ( says its vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication system, based on GPS, has the potential to replace many individual sensors with one advisory system. If the company has its way, all vehicles in the future will be eq-uipped with its GPS-based V2V technology so that they can "see" one another as far as a quarter mile away. The technology prom-ises to anticipate and react to changing situations and will warn drivers of danger with chimes, visual icons, and seat vibrations. Then, if the driver does not respond, the car can presumably avoid collision by bringing itself to a safe stop.

According to Autoblog ( "Conceivably, V2V-equipped cars could do away with complex systems that attempt to integrate multiple safety sensors, such as long-range radar, forward-vision sensors, mid-range blind spot detection sensors, and long-range lane change assist sensors." It cautions, though, that "everyone would need to have V2V and GPS for this to work." The blog also notes that similar communications technologies are under development in Japan and Europe.

Wireless Goes for Government

The city of Mountain View, California held a public safety readiness "dirty bomb" exercise, on November 10, to simulate an explosion scenario. A key part of the infrastructure was a grid of radiation "sensor packs" by Forward Threat Control (FTC (, installed on buildings to detect small amounts of radioactive material and automatically report their presence and location to the city's emergency operations center (EOC). This information was displayed on EOC computer screens pinpointing affected areas, and safety personnel responded, simulating the dispatching of forces to evacuate and contain contaminated areas.

Meanwhile, California's statewide energy efficiency campaign has recognized Dust Networks ( with a Flex Your Power ( award honoring leadership in energy efficiency. A total of 35 entrants were selected from more than 260 applications. Dust's SmartMesh technology helps companies collect information about physical assets and environmental conditions. SmartMesh-XR, says Dust, is the "lowest power wireless monitoring and control communications product available."

Back on the other coast, Boston-based Ember Corp. ( has received funding from In-Q-Tel ( a venture group established by the CIA. Ember, developer of wireless semiconductor systems based on the ZigBee protocol, will use the investment to develop wireless sensor, monitoring, and control technology. In-Q-Tel says Ember's technology has "great potential to improve the security and efficiency of government and defense operations."

Defective Sensors Affect 175 Device Models

Faulty CCD image sensors in digital cameras, camcorders and PDAs have given seven major manufacturers headaches. a Web site for digital camera enthusiasts, broke the story last month (see "We noticed a pattern of service advisories coming from competing camera companies for what was virtually the identical problem, investigated and ultimately 'connected the dots' to find that the common culprits in most cases were defective CCD imaging sensors manufactured by Sony," explains publisher Dave Etchells.

The manufacturers will repair those products affected by the sensor problem even if the warranty has expired, but it is up to the consumer to pursue and request the repair.

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