Be it black ice, snow or fog—Michigan pretty much has it all. That’s why scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research chose the Detroit area this past winter to test out a prototype of IntelliDrive, which is envisioned as a real-time weather and road condition driver warning system that would harness millions of vehicles like a network of computers on wheels. Which, essentially, they are.
NCAR’s test fleet includes Jeep Cherokees, Ford Edges and a Nissan Altima, all fitted with temperature, barometric pressure and humidity sensors. As they drive, a small storage device records the input data, along with indirect clues to road conditions, such as when drivers flip on their windshield wipers or activate anti-lock brakes. (Incidentally, NCAR engineers have developed an algorithm to weed out false positives, such as using your wipers to clean the windshield while the sun is shining).
All that information is funneled to a database, which would—when and if the program works as the researchers hope—relay warnings on hazardous weather or road conditions, and in some cases, suggest alternative routes to drivers. Project engineers are comparing data from the test cars with other observations from radar and weather satellites to assess the prototype’s reliability.
Although the U.S. Department of Transportation manages the IntelliDrive project, it won’t ultimately run the database, as several companies are developing business models to do so. A spokesman says privacy concerned motorists would be able to switch off the system if they didn’t care to share their data.