Nº 4 2013 > Road safety
From assisted to automated driving
What the interaction between the automotive and ICT industries may bring
By Ahmed Khaouja, Director of Competition and Follow-up of Operators, National Telecommunication Regulatory Agency, Morocco
Road safety is a public health priority and a crucial element in the protection of people. Apart from the standard measures to prevent accidents, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is needed, more and more, to enhance security. A number of different applications resulting from the interaction between the road safety sector and ICT industries are now in operation or undergoing trials around the world. This ICT – road safety interaction has been a central theme at major ICT congresses in 2013, including those of Las Vegas (United States) and Barcelona (Spain). The long-term goal for researchers and ICT stakeholders at the international level is to develop driverless motor vehicles and ultimately achieve a road accident rate of close to zero.
Current technologies used in vehicles must be regarded as driving or safety “aids” which leave the driver ultimately responsible for piloting the vehicle. In the near future, on the other hand, we may expect to see self-driving cars requiring only minimal human intervention. ICT will become an increasingly important element in car driving systems and will make roads safer.
This is because far more road accidents are caused by human error than by any technical failures. The trend towards ever more sophisticated vehicle control technology should continue if we are to achieve anything close to a zero-accident scenario. Already there have been real experiences in this domain.
The automated vehicle piloting system
In October 2010, the Internet search giant Google announced that it had designed an automated vehicle piloting system which has already been installed in eight different car models which have been driven more than 200 000 km in California (United States) without incident. The project began in 2005 at Stanford University in California’s Silicon Valley. The automated pilot system comprises a camera, radars, Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, drive wheel sensors and a laser remote detection system. The system pilots the vehicle autonomously, processing the data signals it receives during the journey, but allows a human driver to take back control of the car at any time. The cost of installing the test system is around USD 150 000 per car for the equipment alone, according to a 2011 estimate.
One limitation is the system’s inability to understand hand signals given by someone directing traffic. As for the legislative aspects, according to the New York Times, regulators and politicians have indicated that new legislation will be required for driverless cars to become a reality. In the United States for example, the State of Nevada, in June 2011, endorsed such legislation, which entered into force on 1 March 2012.
The robot car
In early 2013, researchers at Oxford University in the United Kingdom managed to perfect a tablet controlled vehicle which acts like an aircraft under autopilot system. This type of piloting system is designed for use in heavy traffic and on daily commutes. The “robot car”, developed from an electric-powered prototype, is equipped with a camera and lasers, and uses one laser fitted at the front of the vehicle to scan the road 13 times a second. When obstacles are detected, the vehicle slows down or stops. However, in the view of the Oxford-based designers, the technology will not be operational for another 15 years.
The need for spectrum for high-resolution, low-range vehicle radars
The “O1 Business” magazine (Issue No. 2162 of 28 February 2013) reported an interesting trial in Japan. Sompo, in collaboration with an insurance company, has developed “Safety Sight”, an application that uses an iPhone as a “co-pilot”. The iPhone camera analyses what is going on in front of the driver’s vehicle, emitting an audible alert (for example) to prevent a collision if another vehicle comes too close. It is believed that a harmonized, worldwide 79 GHz frequency band will encourage the development of such applications. On the basis of studies being carried out by the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU–R), the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015 (WRC‑15) will consider the allocation of the band 77.5–78 GHz to the radiolocation service to support automotive short-range high-resolution radar operations. Use of these frequencies will enable automobile manufacturers to develop a range of applications that will improve safety in a vehicle’s immediate environment.
Applications of this kind have already been used successfully in the Paris-Dakar Rally, having undergone initial trials in 2004. They provide safety warnings to assist overtaking and can emit a powerful alarm audible at up to 500 metres to warn of an accident or indicate that a vehicle has stopped outside the driver’s field of view, as well as setting off auditory and visual warnings in cars close to the scene of an accident.
Efforts are under way to make these systems more widely available as an option for drivers wishing to improve their safety on the road.
At the Barcelona Mobile World Congress in February 2013, Swedish car manufacturer Volvo demonstrated the use of a smartphone to link a car to mobile networks and ascertain the maintenance status, mileage and fuel level, or even adjust the air conditioning. The car can even make an automatic emergency phone call in the event of an accident, using the car’s built-in SIM card to send an SMS with details of the car’s precise location, in the language of the country in which the accident occurred.
Developing software to facilitate the monitoring and location of the most vulnerable road users
In order to protect the most vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists, the National Center for Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France are working together on a project to develop software that will facilitate monitoring and location of road users in these categories using data from various sensors. Most of the innovative aspects concern ways of pooling the sensor data, and the major outcomes are a number of different data processing algorithms. These applications will be of great benefit, given the particular vulnerability of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, as highlighted by the World Health Organization. These groups account for half of all road accident victims worldwide and up to 80 per cent in developing countries.
Global positioning and video cautioning systems
It is already entirely possible to track a car’s movements using various telecommunication networks through constant exchanges of data with a centre that processes data in real time. If an incident occurs the centre can pinpoint the car’s location and dispatch emergency services if necessary.
For example, the GPS is already being used to improve road safety: some companies are fitting their vehicles with navigation systems, with the agreement of their employees, to improve passive safety. GPS units installed in vehicles transmit data to software systems at company premises so that a vehicle’s location, speed and maintenance status at any given time are known.
Another system being used to improve road safety is the “video-verbalisation” (“Video Cautioning”) system introduced on 2 April 2013 in Paris (France). Cameras sited at the most hazardous locations record traffic contraventions and photograph offending vehicles with their registration numbers. Reports are then generated and sent to the drivers concerned.
In view of development of these innovative solutions, companies with vehicle fleets must commit themselves to improving road safety by fitting vehicles with navigation systems (GPS), with their employees’ agreement, to monitor speed, maintenance status and other parameters and thus improve the passive safety of their vehicles. Companies also need to conduct awareness-raising campaigns to improve familiarity with road safety issues, especially among employees required to travel in the course of their work, since road safety is a major area of occupational accident risk. Insurance companies can also be involved in these awareness-raising programmes.
In addition, telecommunication terminal equipment manufacturers should be encouraged to provide a “car mode” for communications along the lines of the “airplane mode”: the system responds to incoming calls with a recorded message (“I am driving at the moment, Please leave a message”) and prompts callers to record their message.