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The important role of ITC (Information and Communication Technology) – part one

ITC and automotive for autonomous, connected and cooperative mobility and the five great unknowns still to be cleared

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The evolving scenario foresees the progressive replacement of traditional vehicles with autonomous and shared vehicles; types of vehicles that require a dominant use of telecommunications, information technology and sensors. Themes that are not easy to access due to their complexity and to some application aspects that are not yet well defined.

At the same time, it is necessary to adequately plan the development of vehicles, road infrastructures and those relating to telecommunications, which constitute the “backbone network” of the entire Smart Road system.

Despite the brighter market development forecasts, five uncertainties that are slowing down the development process are still evident.

Connected cars’ previsions

Previsions show that the connected car market is growing at a rate of +200% from now until 2025, when it will be worth 275 billion euros: we will have cars equipped with cameras, sensors, tools for advanced diagnostics of internal parts, tracking systems, wireless WiFi and 5G connections.

In China, where we have been investing for some time in electric and autonomous mobility, the Government has allocated (for the whole of 2019) over 20 billion euros for the development of autonomous cars.

Smart road

It should be noted that autonomous driving is described, according to the SAE standard, in 5 successive levels: already at level 3, the car – even if still with a human driver – can in some situations move by itself. At the next level, 4, the man regains control in particular situations, while at level 5 the autonomy is total.

Already in 2019 the market of autonomous cars at level 3 was expected to reach 54 billion dollars worldwide: by 2026, when we have cars at level 4 or in some cases 5, the market will reach 557 billion dollars, with an average growth in the period of 40%.

Benefits’ developments

These developments bring a number of benefits:

  • a reduction of up to about 87% in road accidents. One of the aspects relating to independent driving is the prospect of a significant increase in road safety. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015, road deaths averaged 1.25 million a year and, according to 2018 data, are one of the top ten causes of death in the world. If we link this to the findings of a study carried out by NHTSA (the American motorway traffic agency), according to which 94 % of accidents are caused by incorrect human behaviour, we can see how large the potential number of lives that would be saved by autonomous driving systems is;
  • considering the potential benefits of autonomous, connected and electric driving more broadly, it is possible to take as an example a research published by Boston Consulting Group with the support of MIT in which different futuristic scenarios characterized by the presence of autonomous vehicles have been compared to the current traffic situation in the city of Boston. This study consists in considering a mix of traditional traffic and autonomous vehicles in different percentages;
  • less aggressive driving (thanks to more gradual manoeuvres) and the use of electric vehicles will reduce pollutant emissions (even if the effects of an increase in electricity production have not been evaluated in this analysis);
  • the presence of autonomous vehicles will reduce the need for parking in the immediate vicinity and the spread of shared cars will drastically reduce the number;
  • greater efficiency in driving (reduction of accidents) and the spread of shared mobility will reduce queues; however, greater economic convenience will increase the number of people who will use this type of mobility, limiting its benefits due to the greater number of people on the road (access to mobility for people unable to drive);
  • the spread of shared mobility services will lead to a progressive reduction in transport costs, making it unprofitable to own a private vehicle;
  • thanks to the reduction of travel time and the lack of need to pay attention to driving, travel time can be used more productively.
Information Technology

Less accidents and more safety on the roads, more sharing of vehicles and reduction of transport costs. These are some of the advantages that will be obtained from a greater spread of autonomous, connected and electric vehicles.

There is no doubt that the challenges related to the transformation of the automotive industry, and more generally to mobility, are many and not easy to solve: road safety, sustainability in terms of impact on the environment and costs, pollution, traffic congestion, accessibility for the elderly and for the elderly.

To meet these needs, the trends that are emerging and that are expected to drive the transport revolution in the coming years are multimodality (and vehicle sharing), autonomous driving, electrification and connectivity. These strategies are part of an ongoing evolution towards so-called cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS).

Why connectivity and sensors are important: what you we doing for them?

A fundamental element in the evolution towards autonomous driving is represented by V2X communication technologies. These systems are designed to enable direct “vehicle to everything” communication between vehicles, road infrastructure and road users (pedestrians, cyclists, etc.), for real-time sharing of information on road conditions and traffic.

The objective is to increase awareness of what is happening in the driving environment, reducing the time of detection and reaction to events of potential risk (such as the presence of a pedestrian on the road) and improving the mutual coordination of manoeuvres to vehicles (such as synchronization in convoys of vehicles at short distance from each other in the so-called platooning).

The role of connectivity becomes particularly relevant as the level of automation increases. The exchange of data between vehicles and infrastructure is essential in fully autonomous driving systems (level 5) to ensure safe and efficient mobility.

For this reason, the main car manufacturers, in partnership with the telecommunication industries, have accelerated in recent years the testing of advanced assisted driving systems (ADAS) that integrate V2X communication devices.

Thirty devices will soon be mandatory at European level on vehicles that address a first set of driving problems aimed at reducing the level of road insecurity.

A strong push towards the spread of these technologies is given by the consortium 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), which since 2016 has undertaken a path of collaboration between ICT companies and the automotive industry to promote the integration of V2X cellular technologies in the process of transformation to a connected transport system.

The autonomous vehicle uses a massive sensor system (GPS, inertial units, radar, lidar, video cameras, ultrasound) to monitor the surrounding area and an on-board computer to adjust the dynamics of the bike based on the information acquired.

Self driving vehicle

Without cooperation, however, perception is limited by the range of coverage of the sensors (e.g. for radars about 250 m) and uncertainty about the planned trajectories of other vehicles forces to bridge distances, limiting the efficiency of maneuvering in scenarios with high traffic density.

Direct communication between vehicles (V2V) and with the infrastructure (V2I) extends these perception/control capabilities by enabling so-called “cooperative” mechanisms.

Through V2V interaction, vehicles can merge sensor data in real time and build high-resolution maps of the road environment, extending the horizon of perception far beyond their field of vision and increasing safety.

The V2V exchange between the control systems also allows to coordinate and synchronize the trajectories, reducing the inter-distance in safety, with benefits in terms of fluidity and efficiency of traffic.

V2X communications enable cooperative systems of perception and control that increase the safety and efficiency of traffic; extend the field of vision and reduce interdistances safely. 

The autonomous cooperative guide and 5G

Cooperative driving requires in perspective the development of new V2X technologies that support the exchange of large volumes of data (up to 1 Gb/s), ultra-fast (with latency in the order of ms) and continuous (with reliability 10-5), even in highly dynamic conditions (up to 250 km/h).

The dedicated V2X technologies available to date are designed for the implementation of C-ITS services, mainly assisted or partially autonomous driving, through the broadcast of safety/traffic alert messages.

The first system to be standardised in Europe, in 2009, was ETSI ITS-G5 based; in 2016 3GPP C-V2X cellular technology was introduced, with the LTE standard (4G).

While the first technology (ETSI ITS-G5) has been extensively tested in the last ten years, thus making it mature and ready for marketing, the second (3GPP C-V2X) has recently been released and is therefore only the subject of a few months of field testing.

Many of the performance analyses available to date are based on simulations. Both technologies offer the possibility of direct communication between V2V, V2I and V2P (vehicle-pedestrian) without the need for a network infrastructure on which to rely, therefore they are able to support cooperative mobility services even in unfavourable environmental conditions (e.g. tunnels).

They have been designed to support basic road safety services, where CAM (cooperative awareness messages) and DENM (decentralized environmnental notification messages) are defined, the former relating to the status of each road user, the latter reporting the occurrence of specific and occasional events (e.g. accidents).

Work has also begun on the development of Release 16 (5G New Radio, NR), which will lead to high-capacity, ultra-fast and ultra-reliable connectivity capable of enabling any advanced mobility service by 2020.

C-ITS - Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems

For example, it will be possible to share in real time high-resolution video data produced by on-board imaging systems (camera, radar, lidar) to extend the field of vision; to create see-through applications where a vehicle obscured by a truck in front of it can receive high quality visual information from the cameras installed on the truck itself, gaining visibility and having a greater perception of the environment; to create ultra-fast cooperative control systems for high-density platooning.

The V2V cooperation extends the ability to perceive by acting as a virtual camera that combines incomplete and blurred images acquired from multiple vehicles to extract a wider, high-resolution view of the surrounding environment.

Among the main types of services and their communication requirements, high-density platooning, advanced driving systems where the vehicle communicates its data and/or intentions to other vehicles in the vicinity, extended sensors systems where road users (vehicles, pedestrians, roadside radio stations) exchange huge amounts of data to increase their perception of the environment and remote driving services where it is possible to remote control a vehicle from a distance.

Read part two of this article

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