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Big Brother is my co-pilot

By enelson
Thursday, May 31st, 2007 at 8:12 pm in 511, Caltrans, driving, Freeways, Funding, maps, Security, technology.

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The news out of Washington today is that our very own Caltrans, Metropolitan Transportation Commission and University of California, Berkeley, researchers are joining forces to monitor the movements of all vehicles in the United States.

That’s one way of looking at it.

The government has a different take on the program, called Vehicle-Infrastructure Integration, or VII, to which the MTC and state have each kicked in $1.5 million.

In short, it could save your life.

Here’s how it could someday work:

If VII were implemented, every car manufactured in the U.S. would be equipped with a communications device and a Global Positioning System so that data could be exchanged with a nationwide, instrumented roadway system. Data transmitted between Dedicated Short Range Communication units along the roads and vehicles could warn a driver of impending dangers. The vehicles themselves could also serve as data collectors for traffic and road conditions. This information could then be passed on to drivers in real time and help increase safety, as well as relieve traffic congestion.

There’s more information at www.path.berkeley.edu/VIICalifornia/.

I got warm fuzzies when I read this, because I had written about systems being developed a decade ago that could actually drive cars using road sensors.

The idea was that cars could travel at high speeds with shorter distances between them (although human drivers seem to keep themselves uncomfortably close to each other now) and increase traffic volume for each freeway. Computer software connected to onboard sensors would follow sensors embedded in the pavement while other sensors would make sure cars didn’t get too close to each other.

Just like FasTrak can tell the 511 system how fast traffic is moving at any given moment in the Bay Area, this futuristic system would be able to monitor all vehicles’ locations to within a few inches using GPS.

Some people are already worried about FasTrak keeping tabs on people. This system would make FasTrak look like the Keystone Cops, if you’re worried that our government might be interested in monitoring the movements of ordinary citizens.

On the other hand, this system could warn people when they’re about to run into a bus and provide drivers with traffic information all the way down to the neighborhood street level.

As for me, I’m convinced that the government can already keep pretty close track of me, even if I decide to ride the bus. If such a system will allow us to watch YouTube and drive without hitting anything, I’ll be willing to give up whatever illusion of privacy I continue to cling to in 2007.

Photo from www.path.berkeley.edu/VIICalifornia/.

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One Response to “Big Brother is my co-pilot”

  1. Michael D. Setty Says:

    Given the often “Keystone Kops” implementation of FastTrak and Translink in this region, I don’t see how the current crop of bureaucrats can be trusted to implement such technology effectively, let alone protect privacy from capricious invasions by both government agencies and the corporate sector. Of course, the collision avoidance part of it is something that probably should eventually be required of every vehicle, since the technology has been successfully implemented by Mercedes Benz and a few high end manufacturers already.

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