Cars that ‘talk’ to the world around them will make business travel quicker and more efficient.
We’ve become used to technology taking on ever more driving tasks as the car evolves towards full autonomy. But even the cleverest sensors can’t see through walls, or look around blind bends.
This is where the very latest connected technology can augment any car’s sensors and safety systems. Car-to-car communication is already a production reality in models such as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class, and was demonstrated as long ago as 2006 by Cadillac in the US. But car-to-car communication is just one part of a future in which vehicles communicate with the transport infrastructure and the emergency services as part of ‘the internet of things’. This ‘car-to-infrastucture’ or ‘car-to-x’ technology opens up new ways to make business travel quicker, more efficient and safer.
PARKING SPACE SEARCH
You’re late for a meeting. The nearest car park is a mile away, and eye-wateringly expensive. There’s a chance you’ll just make it to your appointment, if only you could find somewhere close by to park.
The connected car could help. Bosch and Daimler have cooperated on what they called Community-based Parking. First trialled in Stuttgart in 2017, cars scan the side of the road for spaces as they drive. The data is shared over the cloud, so other cars can be directed to the nearest free space. And you can be on time for that all-important meeting.
Bosch and Daimler have gone further with Automated Valet Parking, which saves even driving to the parking place. Instead, the car is taken to a designated drop-off area within a car park equipped with intelligent infrastructure. The car then drives itself to a free bay, as instructed by the autonomous parking system. Rather than trekking to the 10th floor to retrieve their car, the driver can summon it to a collection point through their smartphone.
The technology is not yet production-ready, but has been undergoing testing in Beijing since 2018.
Professor Hans Georg Engel, head of Mercedes-Benz research and development China, said: “Automated Valet Parking is an important milestone on the road towards autonomous driving. We will not only convenience vehicle owners, saving them time and energy, but also do our part to help bring automated driving technology to the next level.”
SAFETY IN NUMBERS
That’s all very clever and convenient, but perhaps the most exciting developments that car-to-x communications make possible relate to road safety.
Several manufacturers are working on connected car systems that share hazards in real time to warn drivers and make accidents less likely.
Mitsubishi Electric and Here Technologies have collaborated on car-to-cloud-to-car trials.
“Together with Here Technologies, we’ve developed a new system designed to give drivers a few valuable extra seconds or minutes to prepare for a potential danger on the road ahead, such as by switching lanes or simply driving with greater caution,” said Hiroshi Onishi, executive officer and group president of automotive equipment at Mitsubishi Electric. “We’re excited about the potential of this system in improving driver safety.”
However, Thatcham’s director of research, Matthew Avery, warns against overstating the safety gains of car-to-x communications. “The biggest safety benefits come from in-built vehicle sensors, camera, lidar and radar that can identify the local condition and situation and respond appropriately. In effect, cars can look after themselves,” he says.
Clearly, the greater the number of cars that can gather and contribute data, the better that data becomes and the more widespread the benefits. So Mitsubishi Electric and Here intend to make the technology available to other interested parties across the industry.
Initially, the technology will be seen in cars with a human driver but a high level of advanced driver aids. But ultimately, this kind of data sharing will be applied to fully autonomous vehicles, says Here Technology’s SVP and head of applications and services, Jørgen Behrens: “We believe fast, accurate and targeted hazard alerts will be a critical part of the data infrastructure required for automated driving and smart city services.”
Thatcham’s Avery sees car-to-x comms as one means of improving the efficiency of automated journeys. “It will also offer the necessary authority to allow safe automation to begin on any specific journey since it will have a view of any potential situations along the route.”
IF THE WORST HAPPENS
Touch wood, connected technology will enable your fleet to avoid any accident on the way to an empty parking spot. But there are further benefits to the connected car, post crash.
The eCall system has been compulsory on any new vehicle type-approved for sale in Europe since April 2018. It contacts the emergency services following a crash, even if the driver and passengers aren’t able to do so.
Hyundai is collaborating with MDGo, a medical artificial intelligence company, on tech that goes much further. By combining the car’s on-board sensors with MDGo’s technology, the car predicts the likely injuries to occupants. Within seven seconds of a crash, this data can be sent to the emergency services to enable a better-prepared and prioritised response.
“We expect an improvement in the emergency medical services of vehicles,” said Youngcho Chi, Hyundai Motor Group president and chief innovation officer.
From enhanced safety to making travel more efficient, it’s clear that car-to-x communications have much to offer, and will be integral to the development of fully autonomous cars.