Audi is developing plans to use connected safety technology for keeping children out of harm's way.
Executives from the luxury brand rolled out plans this week to design vehicle-to-everything connected tech that can alert drivers they are approaching school zones or school buses picking up or dropping off students.
Audi is working with two other companies, Applied Information and Temple to develop this V2X technology and test it aboard an e-tron prototype vehicle at the Infrastructure Automotive Technology Laboratory in Alpharetta, Georgia in the U.S. The project is expected to be completed in the first half of 2021, Audi says.
"Using next-generation cellular technology, we have an opportunity to help save lives of some of the most vulnerable road users – schoolchildren," says Pom Malhotra, director of connected services at Audi of America.
An average of 121 people are killed in school transportation-related crashes every year, according to the latest federal figures, and two-thirds of those are pedestrians.
Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board investigated a 2018 crash in Rochester, Ind., in which the 24-year-old driver of a pickup ignored the warning lights and stop arm on a bus and struck and killed three siblings crossing the street.
In its finding, the NTSB said there was a need for more crash-prevention technology, including V2X, that better protects students, especially in areas where students may cross roadways.
That's what Audi intends to build. In one application engineers are testing, roadside units installed in traffic infrastructure could warn drivers when they're approaching active safety zones and alert them if they're exceeding the speed limit. In a second, Audi wants units aboard buses to broadcast messages that let approaching vehicles know their stop arms are extended and passing is prohibited.
Audi's effort comes as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to move forward with a plan to reallocate a portion of the 5.9-gigahertz spectrum on which these lifesaving safety messages can be transmitted.
For the better part of two decades, that spectrum has been reserved for automotive safety purposes. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says it has "lain fallow" while overall demand for Wi-Fi has mushroomed. His plan – to be voted upon Nov. 18 – would strip the auto industry of about half its allocated spectrum.
Perhaps critically, it would retain a portion that could be used for cellular-based V2X messages such as the ones Audi has proposed. But $645 million invested in a similar, competing technology, Dedicated Short Range Communications, over the past two decades may be lost if Pai's plan is approved.
At a time when at least a portion of V2X's potential is imperiled, Audi's plans underscore the promise of this technology. After all, what could be more important than keeping kids safe?