What does the future of urban transport look like?

Policy, regulations and International Standards key to safety, efficiency and durability

By Antoinette Price

Global authorities and industry agree that policy, regulations and International Standards must be established urgently so as to allow fully driverless vehicles and instil consumer confidence in them

Authorities around the world are under increasing pressure to provide transport networks which are safe, efficient and durable. Two of the biggest challenges faced are road safety and congestion, as well as managing the pollution that results from the latter. The World Health Organization (WHO) Global status report on road safety 2015 cites 1,25 million road deaths per year worldwide.

Connected cars
Communication between cars and/or with traffic signals is expected to make roads safer (Photo: www.automotiveit.com)

Additionally, mega-cities face infrastructures which have reached full capacity and cannot be expanded. They no longer meet all the transportation requirements of highly mobile populations and goods.

During a one-day workshop entitled The future networked car, organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, representatives of vehicle manufacturers, the automotive and information and communication technology industries, governments and their regulators discussed the status and future of vehicle communications and automated driving in a way that will address these points.

Authorities must keep up with developments and ensure safety first

The high levels of automation that are likely to be seen in the next five years are expected to improve road safety, reduce congestion and emissions. This will also provide the growing aging populations and people with disabilities with greater mobility as well as revolutionizing how people live and do business.

Eva Molnar, Director, Sustainable Transport Division, UNECE, stressed the need for policy to support IT developments for the best possible outcome of intelligent transport systems.  Despite the complexity and challenges encountered, she highlighted the need for authorities to keep apace of technology innovations and respond with more timely regulatory changes if required.

Seat belts, air bags and assisted braking systems have greatly improved car safety. Connected car technology will build on this by collecting and analysing masses of data from different sources within the future intelligent transport systems, to improve road safety and save lives.

Jean Todt, UN Secretary General Special Envoy for Road Safety, noted that since safety is top of customers’ wish list, a development strategy for connected car technology must prioritize in-vehicle safety applications.

“We need to promote consumer trust. There is no margin for error with safety critical technologies – they must work perfectly every time. This is even more valid for driverless cars, which represent the natural evolution of the connected car. Consumers will not give over control of the vehicle until they are sure the car and surrounding environment are 100% safe and reliable.”

Connected cars will save lives

Cars connected to the Internet will be able to “talk” to other cars using vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication (exchanging speed, position and direction data to alert drivers to possible collisions). For example, the car will be able to “see” if another vehicle is in its blind spot and alert the driver.

Vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) communication will reduce congestion. By receiving traffic updates, these cars will suggest alternative routes, avoid accident scenes and be able to predict likely jams much further ahead. They will do this by talking to sensors on signs, stop lights, bus stops or embedded in the roads. Improved traffic flow will reduce pollution, save on fuel and enable emergency services to pinpoint and reach incidents quickly to save more lives.

Cars will be able to communicate with homes, offices and other connected devices. They could eventually access all your apps and devices, programme the quickest route to your meeting, play your favourite music and remind you of upcoming events. People will be able to dictate and send emails thanks to advanced voice control capabilities like SIRI.

While all this technology may be convenient, WHO statistics also show that 80% of countries around the world, notably low- and middle-income ones, still fail to meet basic international standards on vehicle safety. The challenge for governments will be to ensure that all consumers have access to connected technology, particularly safety features, both in emerging and mature markets. One way to do this is to start applying minimal UN regulations and include a first level of active safety technology.

International Standards from the word go

From the technology perspective, it was generally agreed by all participants that International Standards will contribute to providing safer, reliable vehicles. They will also help facilitate the transition phase by addressing compatibility issues within complex intelligent transport systems, which will reach beyond borders, for example, in Europe.

A number of IEC technical committees prepare International Standards for connected technology, including sensors, lighting and motor components, as well as the functional safety of computer based systems. Additionally, managing the huge amount of information expected in connected and progressively more autonomous cars will require a platform which can process, analyse and store all the data – in other words, the cloud.

As more cloud-based services and products are developed, harmonization and compatibility issues will need to be solved. Subcommittee (SC) 38: Cloud computing and Distributed Platforms, of IEC and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Joint Technical Committee ISO/IEC JTC 1: Information Technology, has published International Standards which offer:

  • Cloud computing – definitions of common cloud computing terms and descriptions of how different elements relate to one another
  • Reference architecture containing diagrams and descriptions of how the various aspects of cloud computing relate to one another, including cloud computing roles, activities, and functional components and their relationships
  • The interface for accessing cloud storage and managing the data stored therein

Testing the technology

The US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Administration defines four levels of vehicle automation. Level 0, or no automation, means the driver has complete and sole control of the primary vehicle controls at all times, and responsibility for monitoring the roadway and for safe operation of all vehicle controls. Level 4, conversely, offers full self-driving automation, where the vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.

In France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, Canada and the US, as well as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, self-driving cars with different levels of automation are being tested in towns and on highways.

A long road to full automation

Much more still has to be done before we reach level 4. Cars will need to be able to recognize objects that cross their path, handle different weather conditions and for all the possible scenarios already mentioned, seamlessly connect between different parts of the complex infrastructure.

As is the case for any devices connecting to the Internet of things, car manufacturers will have to ensure that consumer personal data is protected, their cars are safe from hackers, and the law must clarify accident and other liabilities.

Connected cars Communication between cars and/or with traffic signals... (Photo: www.automotiveit.com)
Communication between cars and/or with traffic signals helps make roads safer ...is expected to make roads safer (Photo: Volvo)
BMW i8 hybrid dashboard The BMW i8 hybrid, a concept car introduced at CES 2016, features the intelligent personal assistant BMW Connected and makes use of Cloud computing to access real-time data (Photo: BMW)