Vehicles that ‘talk’ safety

Friday, 02 October, 2009

Imagine sitting behind the wheel of a heavily loaded truck. You’re driving on the freeway and visibility is relatively poor. Suddenly you see a car stopped in front of you. You don’t have a chance of braking - the poor visibility prevented you from seeing the traffic tailback before it was too late.

Now imagine being warned well in advance, via a display in your truck cab, that there’s a queue of stopped vehicles in front of you. You can calmly and safely adjust your progress to suit. What’s more, your truck automatically passes this information on to other vehicles behind you, which in turn also relay the information to other vehicles behind them.

This scenario isn’t science-fiction, but something that will probably become reality in the near future. Within the framework of a comprehensive pan-European project, Safespot, research is being conducted into how vehicles can communicate with one another and how infrastructure can be developed in a ‘cooperative system’ for increased traffic safety.

“We are already way ahead in the development of this technology,” says Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic and Product Safety Director at Volvo Trucks. “Communication between vehicles is no utopian dream.”

Between 1970 and 2000, traffic on Europe’s roads increased threefold. Every year, about 40,000 people die on Europe’s roads and about 1.7 million people are injured. Apart from the tragedies and human suffering involved, this also costs society enormous sums of money - about 160 billion euros. The EU regards traffic safety as one of the most important social issues on its agenda.

The Safespot project, which started in 2006, is made up from 51 participants from 12 countries, including vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, universities and road administration authorities. Research is conducted at test centres, where Safespot’s technical solutions undergo practical testing in urban conditions.

With new solutions in telematics - integrated use of telecommunications and information - vehicles can be made increasingly intelligent. Many trucks, for instance, are already equipped with GPS for navigation, or camera-based systems for lane changing. What is unique about the Safespot project is that, with the help of telematics, vehicles will now be able to communicate with each other in a system known as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V). It will also be possible for vehicles to communicate with the surrounding infrastructure using vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology to create a driving support system that enhances active safety.

“This will open the door to an entirely new generation of accident-prevention safety solutions,” says Almqvist.

Safespot has defined and tested applications that are vehicle based (safety at crossings, warning of an impending frontal collision, poor road conditions and alerts to the presence of cyclists or pedestrians) and infrastructure based (speed warning, information about accidents that have occurred and the creation of safety margins for emergency rescue vehicles). Drivers can receive this information via vehicle display or sound/light signals and/or roadside signs or flashing lights.

The basis of Safespot’s cooperative system is three innovative technologies: Accurate Cooperative Localisation, Local Dynamic Maps and Ad-Hoc Communication Networking.

“The aim is to pinpoint position with such precision that the margin of error is less than a metre,” says Johan Fjellström, Project Manager for the Safespot sector that is handled by Volvo Technology.

To achieve the required degree of precision, GPS data is used, along with information from the vehicle’s sensors and knowledge about the exact location of various fixed points in the landscape such as lampposts and roads, obtained from the system’s Local Dynamic Map - a centralised database that integrates information from a regular digital map with layers of information gathered from other vehicles or from the infrastructure.

“The idea is to give the driver advance notification of relevant information about what is happening on the road, based on data from the position and speed of other vehicles, the condition of the road and any obstacles up ahead,” explains Fjellström. “For this to function safely, it’s necessary to have reliable and quick communication in a local network. Safespot uses the IEEE 802.11p Car 2 Car standard at 5.9 GHz.

“At present, it’s not possible to say when cooperative systems will be fitted as standard in production vehicles. It is necessary to achieve a critical mass for this to be effective. Customers must also immediately benefit from the solutions.”

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