(TNS) -- Cars that “talk” to one another, giving real-time alerts about potholes and traffic snarls they encounter on the road. Data from those cars that pinpoint hot spots where accidents or congestion are likely.
Those are part of the vision of the driverless future — but they are also a current reality with a new generation of technology.
Nexar, an Israeli company with offices in San Francisco and New York, makes an app that turns smartphones into smart dashboard cameras, also known as dash cams. They collect information about road events using the phone’s camera, accelerometer and gyroscope, and send it to the cloud and to other Nexar-equipped vehicles.
In one of the biggest collaborations in this still-new field, Nexar is teaming up with Nevada to install its app on as many state vehicles as possible. The project is the first statewide vehicle-to-vehicle network, according to Nexar and Nevada.
“It costs $6 million for a mile of roadway,” said Dan Langford, innovation director for the Nevada Center for Advanced Mobility, a public-private partnership that encourages cutting-edge car research in the state. “If we can spend (less than that) on technology to make that piece of roadway more efficient and more useful, that’s an easy sell.”
Nexar’s technology obviates the need for other, more expensive ways to figure out what’s going on, such as pedestrian counters, traffic counters and ramp meters, he said.
So far a couple of hundred vehicles, mainly Las Vegas taxis, are using Nexar’s app. But Langford plans outreach to the operators of fleets of state-owned vehicles, such as school buses and public-works trucks and cars, as well as to taxi services.
While each state agency will decide for itself about installing the app, “We believe the benefit of the data generated will have significant influence” on getting them to do so, he said.
The app is free to individuals, but large commercial fleets pay about $20 per car per month for access to the data, including insights on how their drivers behave on the road. Nevada and Nexar don’t have a specific financial arrangement, but various state agencies might work out direct deals with Nexar.
Nexar’s goal is to collect anonymized data on 250 million miles per month in Nevada by 2020, or about half of all miles driven in the state, said Bruno Fernandez-Ruiz, Nexar co-founder and chief technology officer. (The state wants to involve vehicles that are on the road much of the time, so reaching that benchmark won’t require installing the app in half of the cars in the state.)
Nevada hopes the data will help with both short-term and long-term issues. “Tools we haven’t even imagined yet will be enabled by data from Nexar,” Langford said.
If the Nexar app spots several cars braking and changing lanes quickly in a certain area, that suggests a roadway problem — and the video from the app could verify whether it’s debris or a pothole — so public works would know to send out a maintenance crew, for instance.
Longer term, traffic planners could gain valuable insights. “If we see multiple vehicles taking the same corner too quickly, we can assess whether there’s an engineering issue there or whether we need to modify the speed limit approaching that intersection,” Langford said. “This can help us optimize our traffic systems.”
Nexar data could also help lay groundwork for future autonomous cars, by creating detailed real-time maps, for instance. “If we have thousands of cameras extracting information about the world; looking at the road signs, the people, everything going on, we’ll be able to study many things,” Fernandez-Ruiz said.
Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley, said the partnership sounds like an innovative step forward in vehicle-to-vehicle communications, serving as both a safety tool for drivers and a data source for planners and engineers. “Drivers access key safety data to help them avoid collisions and provide their real-time data to the state to improve operations and planning,” she said.
Hemerson Reis, owner of San Francisco’s Don Amigo Limousine, has had all eight of his cars use the Nexar app for almost two years. He and his drivers have captured dash cam video of accidents that they shared with the police, and gotten alerts on their smartphones of cars hard braking ahead.
“It would help if a lot more drivers had it,” he said. “More people would get to know what’s happening ahead; it would improve safety on the freeway and in the city.”
©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.