Next generation transportation gets into gear

28th November 2018
Anna Flockett

Over the course of the last year, Hardware Pioneers have managed to successfully cover a broad spectrum of compelling IoT-related subjects - going all the way from wearables and home automation, through to healthcare, industrial processing and smart cities. At the latest in their series of events, the focus was on what effect emerging technology will have on the future of transportation, with representatives from Digi International, Huawei and the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) all taking to the stage.

The motor car has been an important part of society since the days when the earlier mass-produced examples, like the Ford Model T (circa 1913) and the Citroen Type A (circa 1919), first started to be introduced. Though there have been many technological advancements during the past century, how vehicles are fundamentally driven has changed very little - with a human operating the throttle, the brakes and the steering wheel, while keeping a vigilant eye on what is happening on the road ahead. As we all know, things are about to change - suddenly the role of the driver is set to become superfluous.

As Jyoti Bhasin of Huawei explained, during his presentation, each year there are approximately 40,000 fatalities in EU member states (based on figures compiled by the European Commission) due to some form of traffic accident, with the death toll worldwide proving to be even more shocking - reaching over 150,000. It is estimated that the root cause of 90% of these accidents is as a direct consequence of human error. Furthermore, the costs associated with heavy traffic congestion in the EU are equivalent to around 1% of the organisation’s total GDP. As he sees it: “There is now a really strong argument for taking human involvement out of the equation when it comes to driving.”

The development of autonomous vehicles is something that has never been far away from press attention in the last 18 months. Often it has not been portrayed in a good light, with tests by both Tesla and Uber resulting in loss of life. The imminent arrival of 5G communication will represent a big leap forward in the move to supporting fully autonomous driving. Through it, low latency cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communication will be enabled. This will mean that as well as the short range functions that vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications provide, there will also be the connectivity needed for detailed data analysis by the car manufacturer or service provider. As Jyoti pointed out, the newly established GDPR regulations mean that these parties will only be able to use this acquired data to uncover overall trends, not to get specific information on the behaviour of individual car owners. It must be noted though, that some members of the audience questioned if GDPR would actually be fully upheld in this particular context.

It is envisaged that once fully implemented, in the not so distant future, C-V2X will form the basis of an all-encompassing cooperative intelligent transport system (C-ITS). Relying on 5G communication technology (and thereby keeping network roll-out costs low), it will enable our roads to operate with far greater efficiency. Access will be gained to reliable real-time data that can be acted upon, in order to mitigate the acuteness of congestion, reduce the chances of accidents occurring and also combat air pollution, as well as enabling the collection of road tolls, the verification of insurance claims and suchlike.

With the objective of furthering the progression of C-V2X, Huawei is a member of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA). This cross-industry collaborative body brings together leading companies from both the automobile and telecommunications sectors. Among those involved in this are the likes of BMW, Audi, Intel, Volkswagen, Samsung, Bosch, Vodaphone, T-Mobile, Mitsubishi, Honda, Verizon, Analog Devices and Infineon. Thanks to 5GAA, numerous C-V2X trails are already being conducted (13 so far) across Europe, North America and Asia (with Huawei orchestrating tests underway in China).

The highly experienced 300+ team at the TRL are charged with are coordinating a broad array of different research activities - including traffic management, connected cars, freight platooning, electrical charging infrastructure and ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs). With regard to autonomous driving, they are responsible for ground-breaking projects like GATEway and MOVE_UK.

Just completed earlier this summer, GATEway was a multi-million pound endeavour jointly funded by industry players (such as Shell, Telefonica, etc.) and Innovate UK. With evaluation trials being undertaken in London’s Royal Borough of Greenwich, it encompassed numerous autonomous vehicle use cases - driver-less shuttles for hotels, autonomous valet parking and automated urban deliveries being among the most prominent of these. Spanning a period of 3 years, MOVE_UK involves extensive real-world testing of driver-less systems, so that huge quantities of data can be amassed and analysed, in order to help find ways to optimise their effectiveness, gauge their impact on other road users’ behaviour and ensure the highest levels of safety are maintained.

Chief Technologist at the TRL, Christopher Kettell, told the audience: “I am confident that in my life time we will reach a stage where there is no longer any human intervention in driving.” That said, he feels there are sizeable obstacles yet to be overcome. Though nearly all of the technological aspects are now close to being resolved (in terms of the sensor hardware, the AI systems needed, the supporting communications infrastructure, etc.), there is still the commercial dimension to address. As Kettell said: “Autonomous driving represents a paradigm shift for automotive manufacturers, with the business models that they have closely followed for many decades needing to radically alter. Differentiation won’t be through the vehicles themselves any longer, but it will be much more about the services offered.” Likewise, there are certain to be major changes to the way in which the car buying public view vehicle ownership/use and the whole driving experience. Sadly, there would never be enough time in one short evening to tackle all of the issues raised in these presentations, but it certainly gave those attending plenty to think about.

Article written by Mark Patrick, Mouser Electronics.

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