Getting there safely and stress-free

Car-to-X technology is still in the test phase. But even now its practical benefits are clear to see. 

Safe, stress-free, economical driving demands high levels of concentration. Drivers need to monitor what everyone else is doing, predict their next movements, and respond rapidly. To provide those levels of safe, stress-free, economical driving, in the near future vehicles and infrastructure will interact to provide motorists with real-time information on potential hazards or problems on the route. “The leading European vehicle manufacturers are currently paving the way for the launch of collaborative intelligent transport systems and services,” affirms Søren Hess, General Manager of the CAR 2 CAR Communication Consortium. The Consortium, including leading car-makers as well as hardware and software vendors, is seeking to develop an open European industry standard for Car-to-X communication as the basis for collaborative systems.

Traffic lights signalling red phases

Erik Israelsson, head of Volvo Car Corporation’s Car-2-Car Communication division, cites one potential example of communication between the infrastructure and vehicles: “A data transmitter linked to a traffic light could tell drivers what speed they need to keep to on a route in order to pass through all the upcoming lights at green. That would deliver lots of benefits, including better traffic flow, added comfort for drivers, lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions.” A system of that kind could also warn drivers against riding a red light. To do so, an on-board traffic light phase assist function would evaluate the received data. If the light is already red as the driver approaches the junction at unchecked speed, a warning could be generated in good time enabling the driver to brake gradually. This means drivers are able to look ahead and adapt their driving style to the traffic light cycle. According to a study by Audi, a traffic light assist function of such a kind could save around two million metric tons of CO2 a year in Germany – if the technology is installed everywhere.

Recording road traffic situations

Interconnected systems not only help manage traffic more efficiently and safely in towns and cities; experts also believe there are major benefits to be gained on motorways too. Austrian motorway operator ASFINAG is currently trialling such a telematics system around the greater Vienna area. Along a 45 kilometre test route around a motorway intersection in Vienna, some 150 sensors and more than 150 cameras are continuously recording the situation on the roads: monitoring traffic flows, including any obstructions, as well as the weather, which can often cause traffic problems in icy, wet and foggy conditions. A fleet of 25 vehicles fitted out with Car-to-X technology are integrated into the routine traffic, supplying valuable data in real time to the traffic management centre as well as to other vehicles. The on-board system analyses the data received so as to provide drivers with information on current traffic conditions and warn of potential hazards. The data and warnings are received via the on-board HMI (Human Machine Interface) – a central information display system. “Drivers only see the information directly relevant to them, or any hazard warnings,” emphasises Søren Hess. Otherwise the continuous interchange of real-time data remains unnoticed by the driver.

Biggest practical trial in the USA

Car-to-X technology is also being driven forward intensively in the USA: In late 2012 the US Department of Transport (DOT) launched a one-year trial – the world’s largest of its kind – in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Almost 3,000 cars, trucks and buses were fitted out with Wi-Fi enabling the vehicles and infrastructure to communicate in real time. The aim is to avoid accidents and improve traffic flows. According to the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car-to-car technology could alleviate the consequences of collisions, or even prevent accidents altogether, in four out of five scenarios. “Vehicle-to-vehicle communication has the potential to be the ultimate game-changer in roadway safety – but we need to understand how to apply the technology in an effective way in the real world,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

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