Bluetooth warnings

New tech could save pedestrian lives

Riley Riley

New technology will use phones to help warn drivers of approaching pedestrians, bicyclists and other hazards that may be blocked from view.

Based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) messaging and being developed by Ford, the concept uses an app installed on a pedestrian’s phone to communicate their location to a connected vehicle.

If the system calculates a potential risk, Ford SYNC can flash a warning on the car information screen, with graphics and audio alerts for pedestrians, bicycle riders and others.

Ford, Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile and Tome Software are demonstrating the technology at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s World Congress in Los Angeles this week.

“Newer Ford vehicles already with Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology can detect and help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders and others – and even apply brakes if drivers do not respond in time,” Ford’s Jim Buczkowski said.

“We are now exploring ways to expand vehicle sensing capability, for areas drivers cannot see, to help people drive even more confidently on roads increasingly shared by others using their two feet or two wheels.”

Ford is a founding member of the Vulnerable Road User Safety Consortium (VRUSC), formed by vehicle, bicycle, ridesharing and technology companies to find solutions to the rising number of crashes with pedestrians, bicyclists and others.

National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data estimates traffic fatalities increased 13 percent to 7342 in 2021, while bicyclist traffic fatalities increased 5 percent — to 1000.

“We see other possible applications for this technology, including detecting road construction zones and construction workers,” Buczkowski said.

“Ford innovates for the masses, so it’s very promising to start with Bluetooth Low Energy technology that’s already become part of our everyday lives because it’s affordable and effective.”

Bluetooth is widely available in smartphones and compatible with SYNC connected vehicle technology without any hardware changes.

It could complement other technologies by communicating with other similarly equipped devices with sufficient range for alerts.

Bluetooth does not rely on line-of-sight detection like cameras or radar, which means pedestrians and others can be detected while hidden behind obstructions such as buildings.

The technology is already used in personal electronics devices, including smartphones, fitness monitoring devices, location-based services, entertainment and much more.

While consumer Bluetooth applications commonly involve pairing two devices, Ford’s concept uses BLE as a beacon capable of sensing multiple other similarly equipped devices in range without pairing.

The system interprets a person is using the device, differentiates pedestrians from bicyclists and others based on their traveling speed, and further evaluating risk by their direction.


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