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The Significant Hitch In Vehicle-To-Vehicle Communication

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here's a question. What if your car could talk to other cars on the street? As you're driving along, and your car could tell another car perhaps to move in order to avoid a crash. Ford wants to install technology like this in all its cars in three years. Tracy Samilton of Michigan Radio has the story, which begins with a video demonstration.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: Jarrett Wendt is sitting in the passenger side of a car to demonstrate what vehicle-to-vehicle technology can do. In the video, Wendt and his driver showcase one example, preventing the often deadly T-bone crash.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

JARRETT WENDT: Somebody is blowing through a red light, which happens all the time.

SAMILTON: As Wendt's car speeds up, it receives a warning that it's about to run into another car speeding through the intersection.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

WENDT: Elevated warning. Driver pumps the brakes. We avoid an accident altogether in the middle of an intersection.

SAMILTON: Ford Motor Company's Don Butler says this system lets vehicles talk to each other, with traffic signals, even with roads and pedestrians with smartphones.

DON BUTLER: Cellular vehicle-to-everything technology is kind of that common language.

SAMILTON: Except it's not. It's a different language than the one Toyota and GM have already begun putting into some of their cars. Butler says Ford didn't make this decision lightly. He argues that this cellular-to-everything technology is just better. It can send signals over a greater distance, for example. And it will be able to piggyback on the future, faster speed of 5G.

BUTLER: We have the ability to not only get a more efficient, cost-effective way of deploying the technology. We have a way of riding a technology wave that's only going to grow as we go forward.

SAMILTON: Now, this is certainly not the first time similar technologies have fought to the death in the marketplace. Those of a certain age probably remember VHS versus Beta. Sam Abuelsamid is an analyst with Navigant Research.

SAM ABUELSAMID: More recently, we had Blu-ray and HD DVD, you know, two competing technologies doing essentially the same thing that came out around the same time. And Blu-ray won out.

SAMILTON: But this battle is for much higher stakes. Jim Sayer is with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. His group oversaw a big pilot project in southeast Michigan using Wi-Fi V2V - not the system Ford is using. That one could be implemented industrywide today. In fact, it was ready to go two years ago.

JIM SAYER: There's been hundreds of millions of dollars invested by the industry, the federal government, local governments and, quite frankly, just taxpayers like you and I.

SAMILTON: Sayer says now it's going to take more time, money and research to prove that this other system is just as good or better. That delay translates to potential lives lost. Analyst Sam Abuelsamid says eventually, there will likely be a single system.

ABUELSAMID: Because everybody realizes that, for this to be of benefit, you need to have every vehicle be able to talk to every vehicle and to every roadside unit. You know, if they're talking different languages, then it doesn't help anybody.

SAMILTON: Abuelsamid suspects GM and Toyota will blink and switch to the system Ford is using. Or if not, a company will find a low-cost way to make the two systems compatible. Whatever the case, it's likely this pushes back implementation for a critical life-saving technology. For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYTRANADA'S "BUS RIDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.