Several automakers have introduced advanced technology in their cars that can read the road ahead and anticipate whether a vehicle in front is slowing down or a pedestrian or cyclist is nearby. Most of these systems rely on cameras or radar systems monitoring the road ahead, though these can be inhibited by other objects such as cars, trees or walls.

General Motors is working on its own crash avoidance technology potentially capable of detecting pedestrians and cyclists on congested streets or in poor visibility conditions before they are even in view.

The feature relies on Wi-Fi Direct, the peer-to-peer wireless standard that allows devices like some smartphones to communicate directly with each other rather than through a shared access point like a cell phone tower.

GM engineers have managed to integrate Wi-Fi Direct scanning systems with other sensor-based object detection and driver alert systems already available on production vehicles to help detect pedestrians and cyclists carrying smartphones, something that is becoming more and more common every day. The automaker also is looking to develop a complementary app for Wi-Fi Direct-capable smartphones that can be downloaded by frequent road users such as “bike messenger” or “construction worker” that will help vehicles equipped with the sensor technology identify them.

Some examples where the technology could help drivers is when pedestrians might be stepping into the roadway from behind a parked vehicle, or cyclists who are riding in a car’s blind spot.

While we're still not 100-percent sold on the increasing reliance on systems like these, we can see the value in having them as backups to our own fallible senses. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that driver assistance systems on cars, particularly those with some sort of autonomous feature, do help reduce the number of crashes.