Smart, connected or autonomous vehicles are the hype. All over the world consultants, technicians, academics, specialists and investors get together at events to exchange ideas how to realize the smart city. It is a utopian place filled with autonomous cars that supply abundant transportation with zero accidents. What does it take to realize a world with zero traffic fatalities? And is there an opportunity for any after-market solutions for existing cars?
Connected cars are in the spotlight. Cars permanently connected to the Internet offer countless new possibilities. Some seem gadgets such as listening to streaming music, or the option to check the remaining waiting time at traffic lights or that the car drops you off at your destination and parks itself somewhere in the area. However, the main driver for the development of connected cars is safety. In the United States there are 35,000 annual deaths and 4.4 million injured in traffic. In the Netherlands, known for its safe road infrastructure, 621 people in 2015 died in traffic and 20,000 were injured. New technology is both the problem and the solution. 80% of the accidents are caused by a driver not paying attention to the road. Texting, WhatsApp, Snap Chat, the use of smartphones in traffic is the main cause of accidents. The problem has already caused more victims than driving under the influence of alcohol.
V2P safety for pedestrians and cyclists
The majority of traffic victims are in the age group 15-29 years, in the car, and especially at junctions and roundabouts. It is therefore not surprising that in devising solutions the focus is not limited to vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V). One major focus is on vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-phone (V2P). At V2I, vehicles communicate with traffic lights, receive information about roadworks, sharp turns or get a warning to temporarily reduce speed. With V2P pedestrians and cyclists can actively become part of a safer world. The applications seem endless. It can range from a simple warning that a pedestrian wants to enter a crosswalk, via an intervene if a cyclist does not give way, to extending the time a visual or physical disabled pedestrian is granted at a crossing. V2X – vehicle to everything – applies to all forms, V2V, V2I and V2P jointly.
e-Horizon; a 3D computer image of surroundings.
The congress of the Intelligent Transportation Society America 2016 brings together consultants, technicians, academics, specialists and investors from all over the world to discuss the roadmap towards full autonomous driving. Seval Oz is one of the speakers at the congress. She paints a picture of the future. Oz, ex-Google and there responsible for the business development of self-driving cars, is known as automation and network specialist for cars. Today she leads the Intelligent Transportation Systems Division of Continental. She argues why a connected car will be safer in the future than today’s vehicles. The current safety support systems, such as adaptive cruise control, collision warning, lane support or pedestrian protective systems are all based on sensors and cameras on the cars themselves. These electronic eyes are able to distinguish objects and dangers up to about 300m away from the vehicle. The human vision adds roughly a few hundred meters to that. To achieve the ultimate objective of fully autonomous cars and zero fatalities or injuries in traffic, a field of depth of a several hundred meters is inadequate. Even the smartest algorithms are not able to always anticipate in the desired way. What is needed is an e-Horizon, a dynamic model of the world around the vehicle. The e-Horizon environment model consists of a three-dimensional road map, based on data coming from the infrastructure, together with information from other road users and the data of the sensors by the vehicle itself. In this setup a connected car can obtain information about a specific location even before it arrives there. Imagine for example an intersection with poor visibility. Connected cars can exchange information about position, velocity and location. The information is shared via a radio signal in the 5.9 GHz band. Before the cars are in view of their drivers, they can already share how far they are away from the intersection and how fast they are driving. The vehicles can therefore determine who has priority and avoid collisions before they arrive at the crossing. In this way, a connected car can look about one kilometer ahead. In any case in a way that no human ever will be able to. Information that connected cars can exchange with each other under the current V2V protocol includes braking, avoiding head-on collisions, blind spot warning and overtaking.
Daily 250GB of map data
The e-Horizon 3D world which is created by the data out of connected cars is continuously updated with the latest information from sensors and cameras on all connected vehicles out there. This creates an almost real time and a truly up-to-date map of the road. Even pedestrians are captured in this 3D model, because both their appearance and their cell phones are registered.
Making a 3D model of the world is already in full swing. Google self-driving cars that are already driving around now continuously collect all kinds of information from their environment and store it in a central database. At the end of 2015 Tesla introduced autopilot on the Model S. Christian Kots Cher, CEO of Metrotech driving information, calculated that sensors on cars with autopilot like the Tesla Model S and X already collect up to 250 GB of environmental data per day.
DSRC Dedicated Short Range Communication
The radio technique that underlies beneath V2X is DSRC. It stands for Dedicated Short Range Communication and it is a wireless communication signal for short to medium range and is reserved for use in vehicles. The frequency has been in use in the United States at electronic toll payment systems on motorways since 1999. For Europe, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) set a different part of the spectrum for connected cars in 2008. DSRC is a major step towards full autonomous vehicles, but its existence solely will not be enough. Prerequisite is that the United States NHTSA – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – mandates the use of the system in new car sales and that its European counterpart also includes it in the European type approval of vehicles. The inclusion in type approvals around the world has led to safety systems such as ABS and ESP are present in 100% of the new cars in the countries where is applies.
54.7 billion in savings
The NHTSA has calculated the expected benefits of large-scale application of DSRC. The calculation is based on the introduction of only two of all the possible solutions with DSRC, V2V and V2I; Intersection Movement Assist, the system that connected cars will use at intersections and Left Turn Assist, which allows connected cars to turn off left save at an intersection while opposite traffic arrives. Although the NHTSA calculation is based on only two solutions, the benefits are even in the most adverse scenario remarkably. More than 439,000 crashes, over 900 deaths and 305,000 injuries can be prevented with the use of DSRC. In monetary terms it amounts up to a saving of 54.7 billion in social costs. If these are the numbers in the worst case scenario – in the best case scenario 1366 deaths will be prevented – it is not unlikely that NHTSA will issue a mandate for this technology.
After-market accelerates introduction
The key issue in the NHTSA case is which part of the fleet in a country needs to be equipped with DSRC to achieve positive results. The answer is: the vast majority. And that gives room for a critical comment about the benefits, because it takes decades to renew the vehicle fleet in a country. Best estimates vary from 10 to 20 years. In the Netherlands, the average age of a car is 9.9 years. It is an average which means that there are cars in the population that are far over ten years old. In the United States the national fleet is about 250 million units in size and there are approximately 16 million cars sold every year. In the Netherlands there are about 8.1 million cars registered and about 500,000 new ones are sold every year. Whether you take the data of the United States or of The Netherlands it can easily take over fifteen years before the total fleet is equipped with a new technology, provided that from the first day all new vehicles are fitted with the technology. In practice this will not be the case. The top models of the premium brands are often first to get the latest gadgets. Smaller and cheaper cars follow later in time. For DSRC this also seems to apply as both GM and Mercedes-Benz introduce DSRC by model year 2017 in respectively the Cadillac CTS and E-class. Both are of course examples of exclusive premium cars.
The quickest way to provide DSRC to the bulk of the fleet of a country is through an after-market solution. Franz Tschimben, business development manager at V2X leader Savari, has an outspoken vision on this. His company does not focus solely on the manufacturers of new cars, but sees the largest market in the millions of cars that are already on the road around the world. Tschimben says that an obligation by law is a prerequisite for fast mass deployment of DSRC.
DSRC gives room to after-market solutions
There is much to be said for an accelerated implementation of DSRC. Of course, if the existing fleet needs to be equipped with it, numerous jobs installing the technology will be created. This can be seen either as a positive fact or as an obstacle. In any case what ITS America 2016 in San Jose showed, is that the willingness from industry, government, investors and academia to realize a world without traffic accidents, is unprecedented. Large scale adoption of DSRC seems a logical step in that direction. To prevent accidents, the technology requires that the majority of cars on the road is equipped with it. To achieve that on short notice there is no alternative than to install DSRC units in existing vehicles. New technology always creates opportunities for entrepreneurs and technicians, DSRC is no exception to this rule.
This article is a translation of an article originally written in Dutch and first published in AMT Magazine 10 2016.