Car manufacturers already employ LEDs to power headlights and tail lights. Soon, they may serve as radios and traffic controllers, too.

Richard Roberts, Regulatory Research Scientist at Intel Labs, explained how LEDs -- because they are chips that can be tightly controlled -- can pass signals between each other by rapidly pulsing off and on. Those signals can in turn let vehicles know how far away they are from one another and how fast the gap between them is closing, or just provide a relative sense of traffic in an area. Nissan and other labs in Japan have worked on similar concepts, but Intel's new take on this idea is called Location Awareness and Ranging with LED Visible Light.

"This feature would allow numerous applications based upon collision avoidance, such as predicting when a vehicle will move into a driver's 'blind spot,'" Roberts said. Other applications could visualize traffic jams and other snags in the road ahead, which in turn could reduce fuel consumption.

SONAR VS. RADAR VS. LEDAR

Roberts also mentioned how previous technologies like SONAR (sound navigation and ranging) and RADAR (radio detecting and ranging) were used to detect objects. A more recent application is the GPS that triangulates data to give exactly location. "Now LEDAR would use technology that is already available and will not cost too much to be implemented in cars," he added.

But -- and there is always a but -- Intel has to deal with car manufacturers, and the lights of the cars have to be able to turn on even in the daylight. When could this technology be available? "Probably in the next four years," Roberts said.

KEEPING TRACK OF THE CONSUMER

To keep pace with consumers' always-connected digital lifestyles and expectations, developers and auto manufacturers need platforms that provide seamless integration of home, office and on-the-go consumer experiences in cars. At the Research@Intel 2010 conference, a smart car was displayed at the Computer History Museum with new features incorporated by researchers, including:

  • Virtual in-car experience: users can employ netbooks and smart phones to connect to the vehicle over the internet for remote engine start, adjusting cabin temperature, accessing vehicle cameras for surveillance, locking/unlocking the vehicle and arming/disarming alarm
  • Vehicle to device: the connected car is equipped with impact and proximity sensors that send alerts to connected devices over the internet when impact is sensed or when an object is detected within the surveillance zone. In addition, camera recording will be activated and forensic data sent to the cloud forstorage analysis and retrieval.