WHEN ROAD USERS TALK TO EACH OTHER
When we talk about autonomous driving, there is no doubt about the need for sophisticated communication between the various road users. But even today, probably a few years away from a nationwide autonomous infrastructure, extensive networking can offer serious advantages. The main issues here are safety and efficiency.
The whole world is talking about autonomous driving. While the U.S. electric car giant Tesla is trying to achieve the goal of fully automating its vehicles primarily through the use of cameras, Asian and European manufacturers are focusing more on LIDAR technologies. But one thing is certain for both variants: without equipping vehicles with options for reliable real-time communication, it will not be possible to achieve the next level of autonomy. All road users can benefit from vehicle-to-anything (V2X) technology, whether in the car itself, in an emergency vehicle, on a bus or on a bicycle. It consists of the direct networking of vehicles with other vehicles (V2V), with infrastructure (V2I), networks (V2N), roads (V2R) and people (V2P).
The way V2X works is based on real-time data transmission. Whereas vehicles were previously only able to communicate with each other via cellular networks, the speed and functionality of which depended to a large extent on capacity utilization, transmission from vehicle to X is to take place without any losses. This is made possible on the one hand by ITS-G5 technology based on the WLAN standard 802.11p, and on the other hand by the Cellular-V2X approach based on the 3GPP standard. These differ in their technological specifications but cannot be distinguished by laymen and achieve the same result: At the wheel of the vehicle, real-time information about traffic obstacles, accidents or approaching emergency vehicles can be called up.
The intelligent traffic system
Many of the dicey situations that "weaker" road users face could be averted through intelligent communication. Not only in heavy rush-hour traffic, but also in more peripheral areas with poorly visible curves, most fatal accidents involving cyclists - between 30 and 40 in Germany each year, according to the ADFC - occur when large vehicles turn right. With the help of V2X technology, the cyclists' smartphone:can send a signal to the software of the soon-to-turn truck seconds before the intersection, so that the truck is forewarned and can brake. In further stages of automation, the vehicle could even take evasive action or brake automatically. This also highlights the advantage that advance communication has over radar, ultrasound and camera sensors: the algorithms predict the critical situation before it even occurs.
Parking management is another area of application for communications technology. Networking vehicles and parking operators can ensure that information about free parking spaces is played directly into the cockpit, which can significantly reduce "search traffic" and thus also pollutant emissions. At a later level of automation, there is talk of "automated valet parking," whereby the car can be left at a predefined point and picked up again - the autopilot takes care of the rest, always in communication with the parking garage.
Another category of convenience services is efficient route control via V2X communication, which can reduce the workload for both drivers and the traffic system. Services such as Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory ensure an exchange of information between the traffic light and the vehicle and recommend the optimal speed for the person behind the wheel to arrive at the next traffic light during a green phase. This prevents abrupt braking, which can cause long tailbacks, and increases the efficiency with which urban space is used. Dynamic route guidance can also be optimized through real-time communication, since information about busy roads is not first sent to the navigation system through the cellular network, but from vehicle to vehicle in a matter of seconds.
By means of V2X communication, vehicles are in contact with each other as well as with their environment. The communication is intended to increase both safety and efficiency in road traffic. © Bosch
The problem with data
In the modern, smart city, the networking of urban mobility through V2X technology can lead to an increase in safety and comfort for citizens and to a reduction in traffic congestion. Where the list of opportunities is long, however, it is usually also one of challenges; and these are primarily related to data processing, availability and compatibility. Ultimately, a standard must be established that is used by all road users and infrastructure operators without exception, so that comprehensive communication is possible at all. To this end, research must also be conducted into which technologies have which advantages and disadvantages.
The availability of data is a key challenge in that it can only be fully utilized if it is sufficiently interlinked. For example, the traffic control center must provide information about traffic flows, just as the public transport system must provide its timetables, adjustments and capacity utilization. Special events affecting urban traffic, such as large concerts or demonstrations, must also find their way into the algorithms, which requires the cooperation of many different players. However, legal hurdles still stand in the way; this requires targeted initiatives on the part of policymakers.
Pilot projects - Hamburg and the Ruhr region lead the way
The first pilot projects in the field of V2X communication are already underway in Germany, especially in Hamburg, where two projects are attempting to realistically test the networked traffic system. The BiDiMoVe project, which is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) as part of the "Automation and Networking in Road Traffic" funding guideline, focuses on public transport and equips buses and traffic lights with special modules that enable fully automatic, WLAN-supported communication. The aim is to give them priority over other road users, depending on capacity utilization and delays. In addition, drivers will receive speed recommendations and a turn-off assistant will be installed to warn them of parallel bicycle and pedestrian traffic. So far, ten buses and 18 traffic lights have been equipped with the technology; in the future, the entire Hamburg public transportation system will be. Emergency vehicles, pedelecs and e-scooters can also potentially use the system.
Since 2020, the Hanseatic city has also been the scene of a nine-kilometer test track for automated and connected driving (TAVF), the funding for which is also attributable to the BMVI. Here, traffic lights are also being upgraded to be able to communicate with vehicles in road traffic. A total of 37 traffic signals and one bridge will be equipped with roadside units that exchange data with passing vehicles using the WLAN-based 802.11p standard. This will provide drivers with warnings when vulnerable road users are approaching. Traffic light forecasts will also optimize the flow of traffic. The test track is located in an area with suburban train overpasses, high-rise buildings and avenues in order to create heterogeneous and difficult environmental conditions and thus test the technology for its feasibility.
In Oberhausen in the western Ruhr region, the German Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV) is funding a pilot project to improve the integration of emergency vehicles into the everyday traffic system. The aim of the project is to establish V2X communication between emergency vehicles of the Oberhausen fire department and the traffic signals on the busy Mülheimer Straße, which is directly adjacent to the fire station. The technology is intended to enable emergency vehicles to release their lanes fully automatically as soon as this is required, and to cancel this release automatically once the vehicle has passed through. This should enable backlogs to be cleared much more quickly and operations to be carried out with fewer complications. The city of Oberhausen is equipping a total of 30 vehicles with V2X transmitters and eight intersection traffic lights with V2X receivers.
Vehicles communicate not only with each other, but also with pedestrians, networks and infrastructure. © Infineon
Future scenario: communicating traffic systems.
The pilot projects will show which construction sites the technology still holds and where and how it needs to be readjusted. Nevertheless, one thing is already certain: an increased level of communication in road traffic holds considerable potential. Developments in Hamburg, Oberhausen and many other places give cause for optimism: Some traffic problems could soon be a thing of the recent past. And the era of autonomous driving is drawing ever closer.