While non-automotive road user accident stats are down by 25 percent since 1995, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nonetheless reported 4,280 pedestrians and 618 bicyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles in 2010.

Saying it wishes to further reduce such tragedies, General Motors is working toward using in-vehicle technology to let motorists detect pedestrians and bicyclists on congested streets or in poor visibility conditions.

The Wi-Fi Direct system builds on GM’s existing work with vehicle-to-vehicle, and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, and enables smartphones to communicate directly with each other rather than through a shared access point like a cell phone tower.

“This new wireless capability could warn drivers about pedestrians who might be stepping into the roadway from behind a parked vehicle, or bicyclists who are riding in the car’s blind spot,” said Nady Boules, GM Global R&D director of the Electrical and Control Systems Research Lab. “Wi-Fi Direct has the potential to become an integral part of the comprehensive driver assistance systems we offer on many of our Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles.”

The system’s reaction time is increased markedly by eliminating the cell phone tower between individuals’ smartphones. GM says Wi-Fi Direct connects devices in about one second, compared to a typical seven or eight seconds.

“Wi-Fi Direct’s fast connections offer a distinct advantage in vehicle applications,” said Donald Grimm, GM Global R&D senior researcher of perception and vehicle control systems. “The quicker a vehicle can detect other Wi-Fi Direct users, the greater the potential for collision avoidance.”

GM also intends to develop a complementary app for Wi-Fi Direct-capable smartphones specifically for such road users as a “bike messenger” or “construction worker” that will help Wi-Fi Direct-equipped vehicles identify them. The technology is said to work between two devices separated by as much as two football fields in distance from one another, and should be able to give sufficient warning.