Cars that can warn the driver about evolving incidents or approaching emergency service vehicles might sound a little futuristic, but they are already becoming a reality. Systems capable of offering a 360-degree non-line-of-sight warning mechanism are about to take a jump in numbers to start along the road to real safety benefits.
It’s very early days for car-to-car or car-to-infrastructure technology but Ford and Volkswagen are among the big-name brands bringing this type of development to market.
Ford claims that by the end of 2020 it will have enabled around 400,000 vehicles across Europe to communicate up to 11 types of hazards to each other. That’s all cars built since September 2019 (bar the Mustang) receiving an over-the-air update to enable the tech that communicates between the vehicle and base to then alert other nearby road users of an issue. The problem could be anything from flooding, slippery roads and tailbacks to an accident or stranded vehicle, and Ford will use activities such as windscreen wiper and light operation, hazard lights, ESP and airbag activation to ascertain that an incident has occurred. Warnings will flash up on the dashboard of drivers in the vicinity that may be impacted, providing a more rapid and accurate warning than the likes of today’s radio traffic reports.
Volkswagen’s system is slightly different, using wifi to locally communicate between nearby vehicles across a range of around 800 metres; a faster, although more locally restricted format. During testing by German automotive association ADAC, a Golf fitted with the tech was sent into eight hazardous situations, and in each one the driver was warned of a hazard at least 11 seconds before they encountered it.
The system is standard on all new Golf models, and will be rolled out as VW launches all-new versions of its line-up. It operates at speeds above 50mph, although future developments should see it applicable in city environments.
A side effect from all the data cars are collecting and communicating could be its worth to the likes of the Department for Transport, Highways England and the local authorities.
Motorways are fitted with loops every 500 metres to count vehicles and speeds. “But it would be far better to do that with the vehicles reporting themselves,” TRL’s Peter Vermaat tells Company Car Today.
“At the moment if an incident happens just before a loop, the traffic has to be 500 metres back before you know. Loops are expensive and work in a hostile environment, plus they’re not entirely reliable and expensive to repair.”
Vermaat admits that this sort of use will be subject to the kind of battle the industry is already seeing over ownership and use of a vehicle’s data stream.
The tricky thing, as always with new technology and different companies trying to be at the cutting edge, is compatibility, because the systems will be of most use with huge numbers of different cars all informing each other, and therefore the wider network, of problems.
“Everything you need is there except the software to pull it all together; for example, every car since 2011 has had ESP,” Peter Vermaat, principle consultant at TRL, tells Company Car Today.
‘’What’s missing is the will to pull it all together. It’s chicken and egg – a lot of these services need significant penetration so the second or third owner will benefit and the first owner pays for it.” Because of that, Vermaat says car-to-car or car-to-infrastructure technology will only ever work when it’s fitted as standard equipment – buyers will never option it.
There is the hope though that an EU framework DG886 will at least harmonise data protocols to allow different manufacturers’ systems to communicate with each other, something that will be vital if car-to-car, or car-to-infrastructure technology is going to get a critical mass of information to be of use to the driving population. But for vehicle-to-grid, there are ITSV5 and DSRC systems that are competing to become the VHS, rather than the Betamax.
IN THE FUTURE
Ford has said that future developments and expansions to its technology are guaranteed, including the ability to alert drivers to an approaching emergency service vehicle, making for safer and more rapid passage to its emergency. That would most likely work car-to-car transmitted by the emergency vehicle, but other additions including geofencing for low-emission zones, as BMW is already capable of doing on its PHEV models following a recent over-the-air update, will also become widespread.
Peter Geffers, Ford’s manager of connected vehicles platform and products, says: “There is a lot of possibility, invention and agility”.