Our smartphone links to our car’s entertainment system as we get in, and our favorite music comes on. We use the touch screen next to the steering wheel to surf the web. Initiatives such as Google’s Automotive Alliance or Apple‘s CarPlay advance the car’s networking with mobile devices. But let’s be honest: Was that the extent of our soaring vision of the connected car? Of course not – rather, that all cars should soon be networked with one another, with the roadway and with the city. The goals: Fewer accidents and more efficient, environmentally friendly traffic. So, how far have we come?
The European Commission has set its sights on developing an EU-wide intelligent transport system, and representatives from amongst politicians, the automotive industry and various supplier industries are already on board. In an initial project, DRIVE C2X , researchers and technology developers conducted a three-year trial to determine which of its ambitious plans would be technically feasible.
The actual data link is not an issue. The test cars use standard WiFi protocols to radio their positioning data, current speed and driving direction, while intelligent software controls allow them to immediately warn each other of emerging hazards. For instance, this enables drivers to avoid congestion even before it happens. However, car-to-car networking is only part of the picture. Things become really interesting when vehicles are able to communicate with infrastructure such as roads and traffic lights. The pilot project also tested this: Sensors fitted throughout the surroundings constantly monitor the latest traffic situation and transmit the data to a central site. The information collected in the cars themselves also ends up there. In an intelligent traffic management system, this allows for dynamic rerouting of cars when traffic congestion is imminent. Ambulances are automatically assigned priority routing.
The networked traffic control system works perfectly under "laboratory conditions". But it’s real-world deployment that matters. And so, since 2015, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria have been building a Connected Car corridor across the EU. On a stretch of road from Rotterdam via Frankfurt/Main to Vienna , traffic control systems on the roads are being linked to traffic control centers. In addition to the countries themselves, the project also involves the Association of Road Authorities (CEDR), the umbrella organizations of toll road operators (ASECAP) and the cities (POLIS) along with automotive manufacturers and their affiliated industries ( Car2Car Communication Consortium ). The advantage of this “big group” involvement: Establishment of the corridor has been coordinated with the automotive producers and the manufacturers of telemetry systems. The launch of the pilot project would require having cars on the market with the capacity to link to the connected environment, and also that previous models could be easily retrofitted: As is already the case for DRIVEC2X, data transfer will be via the established Wi-Fi standard 802.11p and via the wireless mobile network.
The initial focus is on two applications: Traffic control centers and mobile warning trailers transmit construction site alerts to the information systems of the connected cars in real time. And the cars themselves wirelessly stream data on current traffic situations to the traffic center – where they are assembled into a ‘big picture’ that is then redistributed. The goal is safer and more smoothly flowing traffic.
Naturally, the pilot projects should evolve into widespread utilization over the next few years. In theory, once everything has been cross-linked we won’t be driving our cars ourselves anymore. They will be operated by a central traffic system – more safely, quickly and effectively than ever before. However, this results in the accumulation of huge amounts of data that must be processed within a very short time. To this end, software must become more intelligent, with the capability to pre-sort information. One way of accomplishing this would be with so-called Fog Computing, which allows data to be analyzed at the site where it is collected , thus relieving the load on computer centers.
But many negotiations and enhancements are still required before we arrive at the point of networked driving,. This was demonstrated at the recent annual conference of EUCAR (European Council for Automotive R&D) in November 2015, when around three hundred representatives of the automotive industry, the European Union and R&D met under the theme “connected to the future.” Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, called for closer "cross-sector cooperation." He reckoned it the basic prerequisite for worldwide digital traffic standards.
Visitors to CeBIT 2016 can get a sense of what such cooperation would look like. Developers of Connected Car software for the road traffic of the future are presenting their solutions here, and auto-manufacturers such as Opel are also exhibiting their latest developments. At the CeBIT Global Conferences, tech blogger Sascha Pallenberg summarizes everything that apps are already capable of doing in cars. And the Research & Innovation showcase in Hall 6 has prototypes on display at the cutting edge of science and industry. Even if we still have to wait a few more years for the autonomous traffic system, the technologies to make it happen are being developed right now.