One of the most ambitious smart-road projects, the Cooperative ITS Corridor, started about one year ago in Europe, and it is expected to shepherd cars from Rotterdam through Munich, Frankfurt, and on to Vienna without a single interruption, by warning drivers of upcoming roadwork and other road obstacles. Within the project, technically cooperative systems relying on V2X-communication (vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication) are tested under real traffic conditions. To date, the leader of smart-road systems is Japan, where drivers are informed in real time about traffic conditions and speed limits by collecting and disseminating data through radio and infrared transceivers.
The “digital A9 motorway test bed” demonstrated real-time communication between vehicles, via a high-speed cellular network with near-5G performance, to share hazard information in less than 20 milliseconds versus today’s signal speed limit of 100 milliseconds in the best-case scenario. The test vehicles are equipped with an on-board unit, which is connected to the vehicle systems and communicates with the cellular network via a wireless module. The application software includes a geo service software, which ensures that the vehicles’ position data is recorded and allows for real-time transmission of incident warnings to all vehicles in the relevant area.
Collaboration is the Key
The V2V-communication capabilities will allow cars to space themselves out, making room for merging vehicles, and to automatically adapt their speed without introducing ripple effects in the traffic behind. In the first stage it is expected that vehicles will just share data at first. Later, when adequately equipped with sensing and communication technologies, they will cooperate more actively and will take an active role in the driving act, with enhanced confidence compared to that of a human observer.
By 2020 the technology will allow cars to query cars, and the road will query them all, gaining “probe data” which will permit central stations to control the flow of traffic. For instance, by changing the speed limit so that a line of cars will slow down together, road managers can ease a traffic problem without causing a backward-propagating shock wave.
One of the most difficult issues to be considered by Europe is the need for international standardization, which is not an issue in Japan, due to its geographic particularities. In other parts of the world, (i.e. the United States) the necessary road infrastructure is not expected to be in place at the time, but smart cars can organize themselves ad hoc into moving networks and still take advantage of the technological advances.
The Driving Act by 2025
The intelligence of cars and road infrastructure will bypass the driver, and it will issue both advice and commands, creating the illusion that cars are mostly driving themselves. Because cars will keep to their lanes, lanes will be narrower; and because cars will avoid frontal collisions, lead distances will shrink. The carrying capacity of the roads will rise and driving safety will dramatically increase. Eventually, before you even have the sight of the event, a pedestrian walking down the street will be “seen” by the sidewalk, which will inform the road, which will then further talk to your car to take the necessary safety measures. All you will notice will be your car slowing down and stopping just a few feet from the pedestrian.
To get there, one of the key issues is signal communication speed, as when moving with high velocity on a highway (e.g. over 200 kilometers per hour), there is not much time to transmit or process data.
Top image: Traffic on the roads. (Public Domain)