The automotive industry believes that linking vehicles and infrastructure is the solution to the transport problems of the future. Communication between cars and traffic lights and other traffic systems will be used to reduce traffic jams and help prevent accidents.
The upcoming markets in the world already point to the traffic problems we will face in the future: In the Brazilian mega-city São Paulo, traffic jams in the daily commuting traffic often reach lengths of 160 kilometres and over, the journey to work takes between two and three hours for many drivers. A traffic jam which lasted a gruelling eleven days made history in China in 2010. But these problems are by no means limited to emerging markets. Projections calculate that potential annual losses due to traffic jams soon to be felt in the British economy will amount to 26 billion Euro. But this is just the beginning, as experts expect the number of vehicles worldwide to quadruple from one billion to four billion by the middle of the current century.
The car as a multifunctional sensor
In light of the ever growing traffic volumes, all experts in the sector agree that the future of private transport lies in the mutual electronic linking of all road users. Bill Ford, Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Ford Motor Company, outlined his vision for the car of the future at the “Mobile World Congress” in Barcelona at the end of February 2012 as follows: “To help prevent congestion and accidents in the future, we can benefit more and more from cars, which collect data and information with their numerous sensors. I am certain that many of these options will make our everyday lives easier and safer in the foreseeable future, as they are already in development and in many cases are already being tested.”
Vehicles that warn each other
One current research focus area is the so-called Car-to-X communication. In this concept, cars exchange information, for example on the exact position and speed in a vicinity of several hundred metres, and communicate with the infrastructure, such as traffic management systems or traffic lights. This means that drivers can be warned of congestion ahead, for example. In the event of an accident, other vehicles in the surrounding area can be warned at the touch of a button or automatically. Parallel to this, the nearest Rescue Coordination Centre is also provided with the exact coordinates of the accident site via GPS and can implement rescue measures right away. The control centre immediately informs other drivers of the accident via digital radio.
Technology is already suitable for everyday use
The technology required for this has not only already been developed, but is also ready for use in practice: “As part of the simTD research project, the suitability for everyday use was proven in one of the largest field tests on Car-to-X communication in the world,” states project coordinator Dr. Christian Weiß. “The information exchange between vehicles and between vehicles and the traffic infrastructure can contribute significantly to increasing safety, comfort and efficiency on the road,” explains Dr. Weiß, adding: “Vehicles equipped with Car-to-X technology have a much larger ‘field of vision’ than conventional vehicles without Car-to-X systems. The telematic horizon expanded in this way provides enormous added value – both for private customers and for public authorities.”
Sector develops a joint standard
However, this concept relies on the vehicles and infrastructure components of the different manufacturers understanding each other, as Andreas Ostendorf, Vice President for Sustainability, Environment and Safety Technology at Ford of Europe emphasises: “Car makers have developed independent mobility solutions for today’s vehicles, but we will need to change this paradigm and work together to resolve the mobility issues of the future.” In a declaration of intent issued last year, twelve car manufacturers therefore agreed to develop a joint standard for communication between vehicles and between vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure by 2015. “The automobile is just one element of a transportation ecosystem,” added Ostendorf. “We need to optimise the entire system to deliver a customer experience that is safer and more efficient.”