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Safe-smart cars no longer a pipe dream

Cars that communicate with each other while on the road, warning the driver of any problems are no longer science-fiction. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology is here and it is only a matter of time before drivers start finding it in their cars, says MARK WARREN.

Every year, about 1.3 million people worldwide lose their lives on the roads, with up to 50 million more suffering non-fatal injuries. The human and economic impact of these tragedies is huge. Estimates suggest that, each year, traffic incidents cost countries between 1% and 3% of their gross domestic products, largely due to the price of treatment for victims and lost productivity.

Motor telematics or vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology has the potential to make our car journeys safer. V2V-equipped cars “talk” to each other using a wireless network with a range of about 1 000 feet. These cars exchange basic data such as speed and position ten times a second, helping to warn drivers of looming hazards and ultimately avoiding many crashes altogether.

For example, with current safety applications, if the driver of a car ahead slammed on his or her brakes, you might be warned with a red light on your dashboard. In more advanced, future models, the car might brake by itself or even self-steer around the hazard, bearing in mind the position of the vehicles around it.

These technologies are eventually expected to blend with vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies, which would see connected cars communicating with smart traffic lights and other stationary objects. By communicating with roadside infrastructure, drivers could be notified of hazardous roadway conditions or dangerous curves, when they are entering school zones, if workers are on the side of the road, and if upcoming traffic lights are about to change.

In February, the US government took the first steps toward sanctioning V2V technology in law. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it would be looking at making V2V communication mandatory for light vehicles. This follows research initiatives by the NHTSA, including a year-long safety pilot project, where nearly 3 000 cars, trucks and buses were equipped with the technology to help avoid crashes and improve traffic flow in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The promise of a fully “connected car” in the near future is extremely exciting for drivers, mobile operators and automakers alike. However, the environments automobiles encounter are fierce, and consumer wireless technology isn’t cut out to withstand the extreme temperatures, excessive vibration and humidity experienced on the road.

Gemalto has developed connected technologies ruggedised to cope with the demanding conditions of motor vehicles. The company’s certified automotive-grade Cinterion products are extremely robust, durable and heat-resistant, and are already in use in motor safety applications.

Several years ago, the European Commission introduced eCall, an initiative intended to bring rapid and automatic assistance to motorists involved in incidents anywhere in the European Union. In the event of a serious road incident, the in-vehicle system automatically and reliably communicates a minimum set of data, including time of the incident, cause of activation, GPS coordinates, and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), to an emergency call centre over wireless networks.

In addition, the Cinterion module establishes an automatic hands-free voice call so call centre staff can gather additional information from the involved passengers. The call helps determine what emergency services are needed so early responders arrive at the scene of the incident fully informed and prepared to help as needed.

In this field, Gemalto was recently honoured with two awards for advancing M2M technology across Europe: the 2013 iMobility Industry & Technology Award celebrating the most ambitious and innovative iMobility deployments, sponsored by the European Commission, as well as the 2013 ERTICO HeERO Award for outstanding contribution to the pre-deployment of a Pan-European eCall system.

With the eCall system, a crash triggers an automatic call to the call centre, but the emergency call can also be set up manually if car trouble occurs. In this format, the solution is referred to as bCall. In the event of a car breakdown, when a vehicle is equipped with a bCall solution the driver doesn’t have to worry about finding an emergency telephone or calling for a tow truck. With the push of a button, a connection to a roadside assistance call centre is automatically made.

Simultaneously, location data and on board diagnostic data is transmitted to the call centre and made immediately available to the dispatcher. In a dialogue further information is retrieved. The dispatcher is able to calm the distressed driver, mediate a solution and if applicable, assign a roadside assistance team to help the stranded motorist.

Cinterion solutions are prepared to meet the comprehensive requirements of present-day and future V2V and V2I initiatives. The technology is here, and it is only a matter of time before we all own safe-smart vehicles, improving both the safety and efficiency of our roads.

* Mark Warren, Machine to Machine specialist at Gemalto South Africa

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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