BOULDER, Colo. (AP) – Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research are examining ways to collect weather data from onboard computers on automobiles.

The Boulder Daily Camera reports that aside from onboard thermometers, researchers are interested in other data that provides information about weather and road conditions. Those include activation of windshield wipers, headlights flipped on during daylight hours and engagement of vehicle antilock brake systems.

Researchers conducted a trial run in Detroit in 2009 and expanded that this year to include snowplows and other vehicles owned by the departments of transportation in Nevada and Minnesota.

The idea is to eventually have data sampling of all cars on the road. Researchers are working out the logistics of adding communication devices to vehicles.

“It turns out that your vehicle is collecting a ton of interesting information,” said NCAR researcher Sheldon Drobot, principal investigator of the research project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. “Cars have all these computers in them nowadays, and they’re incredibly complicated. They know all kinds of stuff that’s going on, but they don’t really share that information.”

Drobot and other researchers are examining the accuracy of the data, how to share the data and how many vehicles need to be sharing information to be useful.

In the Detroit test, 10 vehicles collected data and sent that information via radio frequency between vehicles and infrastructure along the road.

The ultimate goal is to make roads safer by having cars warn each other of impending hazards, such as black ice, fog banks, heavy downpours and winter storms.

“If you have a mile stretch of road and all of the vehicles are connected and half of their antilock brake systems are going off — there’s something going on where they’re all slamming on their brakes,” said NCAR researcher Michael Chapman.

Car manufacturers may be able to add built-in communication devices in the future, or members of the public may be able to opt into a program that allows their vehicles to report in.

“It’s not the government going out and trying to figure out where people are going and what they’re doing,” Chapman said. “It’s to anonymously collect weather data that’s potentially going to improve how safe the roads are.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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