Sensors Mag

Accident Spotting in the Wild

August 3, 2007 By: Melanie Martella, Sensors

E-mail Melanie Martella

In urban areas and other densely populated regions, if your car crashes, chances are very good that your accident will be noticed and reported PDQ—if for no other reason than that your accident is holding up traffic. But we've got a lot of roads in the U.S. and most of them pass through some pretty empty country, so accidents aren't always spotted as soon as they occur. People involved in serious crashes have the best chance of surviving if emergency services can get to them as soon as possible. A new twist on RFID aims to make that easier.

Help, Help!

There are already systems in place to help people in car accidents. The OnStar system from GM, for instance, allows you to push a button to be connected with emergency services or, should your car's airbags deploy, to automatically alert someone at OnStar to contact you to see if you're OK. Newer cellphones include GPS to help emergency services locate you should you be lost or incapacitated. Heck, just having a cell phone with you and being able to call 911 is a huge improvement over trekking to the nearest emergency call box or scrambling to find a nearby landline.

I've mentioned Telepathx before. This Australian company uses RFID-enabled sensors attached to utility poles and other electrical infrastructure to spot wildfires in rural areas. The company has now adapted the technology to spot automobile crashes. Small active RFID transmitters with integrated crash sensors are designed to be embedded into guard rails, bridges, barriers, or other structures. They activate when a car or other vehicle crashes into the object in which they are embedded, sending a signal to an access point in a roadside call box. Since every sensor has a unique ID, you know exactly which structure or object has been hit and (by extension) exactly where the accident has occurred. More importantly, the call goes out at the moment of impact. You can read more, courtesy of RFID Journal's article "Telepathx Develops Accident-Detecing System Linked to Auto Airbags".

Dead Man's Curve

I'll admit that I have mixed feelings about systems like OnStar—I've heard too many stories of people blindly following their car's navigation system and driving off roads and into the path of oncoming trains. The technology is great, don't get me wrong—the problem is how people use it. Isn't that always the case? I much prefer systems like this one, that exist in the environment, waiting until they're needed. Which do you prefer? Scroll down to the bottom of the page and post a comment!

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