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GM working to sharpen drivers' eyes

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GM working to sharpen drivers' eyes

Automaker looking to amp up technology to illuminate tough conditions, obstacles

Robert Snell / The Detroit News

General Motors Co. is developing technology that will help drivers -- particularly older motorists -- navigate through fog and other dangerous road conditions. The technology involves night vision, navigation and camera-based sensors that transform windshields into transparent displays that can illuminate the edge of driving lanes and alert motorists to dangers -- from deer to motorcycles to children -- outside their normal field of vision.

The technology could become increasingly important as baby boomers age, and older people keep their licenses longer and drive more miles than in previous years -- and presumably keep buying new model vehicles. Though the population of people 70 and older climbed 10 percent between 1997 and 2006, crash deaths fell 21 percent in that group, likely because those motorists cut back on driving because of physical and cognitive impairments, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The proportion of the U.S. population age 65 and older is expected to rise to 19.6 percent from 12.4 percent in 2000 in the next 20 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The technology being developed by GM could help those motorists compensate for impairments from aging.

Automakers have devoted attention to boosting safety for aging motorists. In 2007, GM held a technology, design and mobility conference in Detroit with the American Association of Retired Persons.

"In general, AARP is supportive of technology that's going to keep everybody safe on the road," AARP spokeswoman Nancy Thompson said Tuesday, after she was briefed on GM's technology.

The technology, which likely won't debut until at least 2016 or 2017, expands display systems that already are available on several GM models but use a small portion of the windshield.

"This is really one of the horizon technologies," said Thomas Seder, lab group manager in GM's Vehicle Development Laboratory. His team is working on the technology with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Southern California.

One aspect of the windshield technology is similar to the digital yellow line that TV networks use to mark first-down locations during football games. In foggy or inclement weather, GM's "enhanced vision system" would heighten safety by combining night vision to highlight the roadway and identify the exact location of, for example, animals approaching the roadway.

GM was the first automaker to market head's up display technology in 1988. It allowed motorists to focus on the roadway instead of the instrument panel by displaying information such as vehicle speed, lane-change indicator status and warning messages.

Seder said the vision system can be combined with sign-reading technology similar to a system available on the Opel Insignia. That system alerts motorists when they are driving faster than posted speed limits or are approaching construction zones.

The system also can read overhead traffic signs to give motorists step-by-step navigation.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100317/AUTO01/3170392/1148/auto01/GM-working-to-sharpen-drivers--eyes#ixzz0iR7boJYm

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