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Australia gets set for intelligent cars

Beam me up: The next major advance in vehicle safety is technology that enables vehicles to communicate with each other to automatically avoiding collisions.

Cars that avoid each other the next big thing in auto safety as V2V technology nears

29 Sep 2011

VEHICLES that talk to each other to avoid collisions will be the next major advance in automotive safety, but will Australia be ready for the ground-breaking new vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology that will become reality overseas in less than five years?That is the question now facing Australian authorities and the local industry, as global car-makers gear up to introduce V2V-equipped cars in Europe and the US by 2015.

GM Holden’s vehicle regulation and certification manager Mike Hammer, who oversees vehicle design regulations for Holden’s domestic and export programs and serves as industry-government liaison through the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, says the Australian auto industry is collectively on target in its preparations for V2V.

However, he has warned authorities of the need to establish the standards and governance framework required for its implementation.

Speaking at the second Australian Intelligent Transport Systems summit on the Gold Coast over September 20-22, Mr Hammer said V2V technology could be one of the single biggest automotive safety advances since the invention of the seatbelt and electronic stability control.

“A friend of mine’s got this proximity warning device on his glider,” he said. “We were up flying a few years ago and it told us there was another glider flying below us and I thought it was a fantastic system that we ought to have on cars.

“There’s a lot of research around the world now because, as our vehicles become safer, the role of human error in crashes is becoming more dominant – particularly things like side impacts, which mostly occur below the speed limit and are usually the result of driver error.”

Compelling evidence

A field study completed in June by Melbourne’s Monash University Accident Research Centre found that, of 25 participants driving a 21km urban route including 29 intersections, the drivers made an average of 12 errors per drive.

“Half the errors occurred at intersections and there were actually four instances of people failing to stop at a red light even though they knew they were in a car that was being monitored,” said Mr Hammer, an electrical and computing systems engineer with 30 years’ experience in the automotive industry.

Similarly, a statistical study by the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Automotive Safety Research concluded that 87 per cent of crashes in South Australian urban areas were caused by people making simple road-user mistakes.

North America’s peak road safety body, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has estimated that co-operative intelligent transport systems (ITS) could help in 81 per cent of police-reported light-vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers.

And the Monash University team has forecast that intelligent vehicle safety technologies like V2V could reduce serious road injuries by up to 35 per cent.

“These improvements are well beyond even the most ambitious government targets and what could be achieved with other technologies,” said Mr Hammer.

“There are similar studies overseas which have come to the same conclusion. What they’re saying is the vast majority of crashes are (caused by) people making mistakes – it’s not bad behaviour, it’s just people making mistakes – and a lot of our road safety policies at the moment are focussed towards driver behaviour. They’re not really focussed towards error-tolerance – making the system error-tolerant.

“Estimates on the contribution of human error to road traffic crashes vary from 75 to 90 per cent. Human error is inevitable, but it should not result in death or serious injury. So really what we need is a second set of eyes, a guardian angel that intervenes if a crash is imminent.

“The automotive industry is firmly focused on safety as the number one priority for co-operative ITS, and V2V as the lead technology. Vehicle safety development in the future will focus on actively assisting the driver not to make errors.”

The association of Australian and New Zealand road safety and traffic authorities, Austroads, estimates that a one per cent reduction in road crashes would save $180 million per annum, while a one per cent reduction in road congestion would save $94 million.

Technology at hand

Mr Hammer told GoAuto that active safety features like anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) could be viewed as the first error-tolerant technologies to appear in vehicles because they compensate for driver mistakes, but because they have been so effective, driver error is playing an increasingly large role in multi-vehicle collisions.

“NHTSA has recently stated that stability control is significantly reducing the number of off-road and rollover crashes in the USA, so the automotive industry is now firmly focussed on safety as the number one driver of co-operative ITS systems.

“V2V is the lead technology within that, so the global vehicle manufacturers are getting together to agree on protocols and standards and probably in the next five to 10 years we’ll start seeing vehicles with these new safety systems on them.”

80 center imageEssentially an all-around object detection system, V2V makes vehicles aware of others close by and is immune to false alarms, fog and rain. Proponents say V2V is one of the few technologies effective for prevention of side impacts and intersection collisions, and that its low cost means that every vehicle can have these latest crash avoidance and driver assistance capabilities.

V2V technology was first seen in GM prototypes as early as 2004 and the same crash-avoidance technology is employed in a range of autonomous vehicle trials – which also use follow-the-leader radar-based cruise control, lane departure warning and other technologies already available in many luxury cars – that could lead to cars that drive themselves on Australian roads within a decade.

“A lot of these technologies are available now, but you tend to see them on expensive vehicles. The beauty of V2V is it’s very inexpensive – it’s just a GPS receiver with no fancy radar. Because it’s cheap, it can be used on all cars, and even cyclists can carry transponders.”

Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) telematics systems such as Holden Assist and traffic alerts are already commonplace in the form of both factory-fitted and aftermarket devices, but the first V2V-equipped showroom vehicles are due to hit European roads in 2012.

The US government is due to decide in 2013 whether to mandate the technology there in future vehicles.

Field trials are already underway in both regions, with ‘safety pilot driver clinics’ being conducted in the US between July this year and May 2012 to obtain data about driver acceptance of V2V safety systems.

As part of the trial, in which 108 ‘naive’ volunteers will participate in six clinics, GM will supply three Cadillacs to be among 24 vehicles fitted with fully integrated V2V systems.

The study will assess driver acceptance of V2V applications including Emergency Electronic Brake Light (EEBL), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Blind Spot Warning/Lane Change Warning (BSW/LCW), Intersection Movement Assist (IMA) and Do Not Pass Warning (DNPW).

The next phase of V2V deployment – critical mass/exposure testing – began in August, when 64 vehicles from eight manufacturers were fitted with five V2V applications, 3000 were fitted with ‘here I am’ devices and more than 100 were retro-fitted with aftermarket V2V devices.

The vehicles are being tested in high-density environments involving high numbers of cars, trucks, buses, fleets and rail crossings.

Will Australia be ready?

No such research has been conducted in Australia, where authorities have embargoed the globally recognised 5.9GHz Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) frequency, which is currently undergoing interference testing here but is yet to be allocated as it is in Europe and the US.

Mr Hammer said V2V technology will be delivered by DSRC because: It supports secure V2V and V2I communications It supports high-speed, low-latency, short-range communications (active safety requires millisecond response times) It works in high-speed mobility conditions It is tolerant to multi-path transmissions typical with roadway environments and it operates in a licensed frequency band primarily allocated for vehicle safety applications, where safety messages have priority, making it reliable and interference-free.

DSRC, which is different to conventional WiFi data communications that can take several seconds to establish a connection, will be supplemented by localised V2I safety applications (such as at accident blackspots) and the dedicated safety channel will also communicate with non-safety-related information delivered by commercial means via wireless, cellular and digital radio platforms.

Mr Hammer said he did not envisage any interference issues in Australia with the 5.9GHz frequency, which has been recognised by the US Department of Transport as the lead application for V2V safety technology as part of its Connected Vehicle strategy ‘IntelliDrive Vision: Safety and mobility through wireless technology’.

However, he said the need for co-operative ITS systems was crucial to V2V’s rollout here and warned that Australia could be left behind when the technology appears on European cars if government framework and standards are not finalised in time.

“The problem is getting governments and road traffic authorities to agree on policy, standards and spectrum allocation. We also need a licensing administrative procedure so the cars can be licensed.

“Our focus now in Australia is trying to get the governance framework and the standards and spectrum allocation in place so that when this technology starts appearing on cars it can actually be used in Australia.

“Australia is only 1.4 per cent of the global market. Global manufacturers will not develop unique applications for Australia. If we do not harmonise, these safety features will not become available in Australia.

“Interoperability and open standards are vital for the success of this technology in Australia. Our market is far too small to support competing proprietary protocols.

“There is a danger of small-scale proprietary solutions being developed to solve immediate issues (eg: rail crossings) that will have a long-term legacy and possibly even delay the uptake and resultant safety benefits of this technology.

“Work is happening and we are doing what needs to be done in terms of the timeframe, but we are pushing for the Australian Transport Council to put forward a statement supporting this technology so that government departments and transport and communications ministers are all made aware of it. Once they’re aware of it, they can accelerate its implementation.”

US secretary of transport Ray LaHood issued a statement in May 2010 supporting the rollout of V2V technology in the US, and Mr Hammer said a similar statement by the ATC would help accelerate Australia’s readiness.

Mr LaHood said: “We’re fully committed to Dedicated Short Range Communications, which delivers real-time information and data to – and between – vehicles. We know that this technology will not only achieve new safety benefits, but also create a platform for innovations with countless commercial applications.”

Mr Hammer said that Australian authorities also needed to create more awareness of the advantages of V2V, which he said would be widespread across most new cars when it arrived because its outstanding cost-benefit ratio would make it a commercial necessity for most car-makers.

“It’s too early to say what form the technology will arrive in here,” said Mr Hammer. “Because of the relatively low cost and large safety benefit, it’s likely to appear on a large number of cars from the start, but because it’s five to 10 years away it’s hard to say exactly how it will pan out.”

Either way, a yet-to-published Austroads study has estimated that widespread implementation of V2V systems would not occur before 2020 without supplementing OEM V2V systems fitted by car-makers with retro-fitted aftermarket devices.

The privacy issue

GM’s US telematics service, OnStar, earlier this week backed down on its decision to change its terms and conditions following a public backlash over privacy concerns.

OnStar said it would not go ahead with changes that would allow the company to continue to track vehicle data even after the owner had cancelled the subscription, giving it on-going access to a host of data including vehicle speed, location, seatbelt status, odometer reading and other information.

However, Mr Hammer said privacy was not an issue with the type of V2V systems that will be fitted by OEM car-makers, which did not rely on personal information but would require similar laws to the ones that govern the optional location services that are now part of many online applications.

“These are cars communicating directly with each other, telling each other where they are, which direction they’re travelling in and how fast they’re going, and then the cars themselves will figure out if a collision is imminent.

“Information like who’s where in their locality won’t be kept, and that’s perfectly adequate for crash avoidance. It’s when you get to some of the other more value-add applications like on iPhones that data starts being stored and you get into the ‘Am I being tracked?’ area.

“So they could be opt-in sort of technologies, but they need to be put in a policy so everyone works within that framework.

“It’s a governance issue – making sure we have a policy around data privacy. There have been a lot of issues with iPhones already – people finding out that iPhones can actually track you and that companies are tracking their movements.

“Issues like, if you don’t want your movements being tracked you should be able to turn it off – those sorts of things need policy framework around them, so there’s certainty.

“What’s required is to make governments aware quite early, then to advise the public it’s coming to create awareness and demand for it. It doesn’t need solving it just needs clarity around it.

“If Australia is to enjoy the benefits of this new and exciting technology, we must put in place a supporting governance framework to cover privacy and data ownership issues and create awareness through high-level government support and selected signature projects.”

Mr Hammer said V2V safety systems do not have to be vehicle-specific.

“For vehicle safety, all the cars need to know is where the other cars are – not what the other car is and/or who’s driving it. And, for traffic, all they need to know is what’s the volume of traffic and what’s the average speed.”

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