TRAVERSE CITY, MI – They don’t look any different from ordinary cars, trucks, buses or motorcycles, but some 2,800 of these vehicles quietly are helping amass information for the coming age of vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

So says James Sayer, research scientist and head of the Human Factors group at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in a Management Briefing Seminars session here.

The vehicles all are privately owned and are participating voluntarily in a U.S. Department of Transportation program.

The research covers a section of northeast Ann Arbor, MI, where UMTRI has installed 27 roadside sensors to track traffic patterns and other information as the vehicles go through their daily routines.

The research, aimed at improving highway safety, was launched a year ago and has about six months to go. So far, UMTRI has generated 37,500 V2V interactions as the vehicles have logged 6 million miles (9.7 million km) of driving.

“You won’t get to autonomous cars without connectivity,” Sayer says.

UMTRI officials in May announced formation of the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center. Part of the ongoing $25 million connected-vehicle study with USDOT, the center primarily will focus on testing emerging concepts in connected vehicles and automated vehicles and such systems in on-road and off-road settings.

“This connected-vehicle technology has the potential to revolutionize our transportation system by drawing drivers’ attention to risks more immediately and reliably, providing protection in cases when driver attention is deficient and giving drivers more time to react,” Peter Sweatman, UMTRI director said at the time. “I know of no other technology that could have the same impact on safety, and potentially in a reasonably short timeframe.”

U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. Administrator David Strickland said earlier this year his agency will continue to investigate all levels of automation to see whether more electronics in cars can increase safety.

“We believe V2V technology will complement and ultimately merge with the advanced braking systems and other crash-avoidance technologies that we are currently evaluating to shape the future of motor-vehicle safety,” Strickland said, adding V2V potentially could prevent about 80% of accidents involving non-impaired drivers.