GIS

Tech Trends-Smart Cars, Coming to a Future Near You

1 Jan, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

The 12th World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems


I was strapped to the backseat of a BMW convertible, bracing for a skid. I had been promised a skid and I'd be very disappointed if there wasn't one. The driver, a young man with expensive shades, accelerated the car into an artificially wet curve. When the anticipated swerve came, our car "talked" to the car behind us, using what BMW calls XFCD (extended floating car data). It sent a ping and a display message, warning the other driver of slippery road conditions ahead.

Next, for more adrenaline, I climbed into a Motorola van, which soon began trailing another car. When the car ahead made an unexpected, fast stop (as it was supposed to), a panic brake alert flashed on our onboard display. This instantaneous communication was made possible by Motodrive, Motorola's vehicular wireless architecture. These were just a couple of the live demos presented at San Francisco's SBC Park as part of the 12th World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS Congress, www.itsworldcongress.org), where a number of technologies—GPS, DSRC (dedicated short-range communication), wireless, digital mapping, simulation and 3D visualization—came together.

Helpful Hints from Talkative Dashboards

Since September 2001, in Germany, BMW (www.bmw.com) has been testing FCD (floating car data), using its models equipped with BMW Assist (a vehicle telematics and communications system) as mobile sensors to gather and transmit traffic data. XFCD is a research program and further development of FCD. "There is no need for additional hardware," according to BMW. "XFCD works on the basis of existing vehicle architecture and merely has to be supplemented by software programs." In addition to facilitating vehicle-to-vehicle communication, the system can statistically process the aggregated data—such as collective uses of fog lamps, brakes, outside thermometers, rain sensors and windshield wipers—to draw conclusions on possible traffic congestion and hazardous weather conditions. The XFCD-generated data can then be sent to other vehicles and networks, such as traffic-control centers, for road-sign updates, deployment of road maintenance equipment and other functions. The participating vehicles send, relay and receive messages through ad hoc networks, with no need for roadside infrastructure and no limit on range.

Motorola's Motodrive (www.motorola.com), developed to support the U.S. government's VII (Vehicle Infrastructure Integration) initiative, lets cars communicate with one another as well as with pole-mounted roadside devices. The cell phone giant expects that one day vehicles will be able to detect and report potholes, ice patches and other road hazards—not only their locations but also their severity—so the information can be transmitted to nearby drivers and to a local traffic control and safety agency. Read more about autonomous vehicles in "Pitching, Rolling and Yawing over the Desert Sands" by Stephanie Henkel on Innovate Forum (www.innovateforum.com).

Technology Merge Ahead

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2004 there were 6,181,000 police-reported traffic crashes, which resulted in 42,636 fatalities. That's a decline from the 42,884 reported in 2003 and the 43,885 in 2002 (read the full report at www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/ncsa/TSF2004/809911.pdf). The federal government's VII initiative is a preemptive strike, aimed at curbing these numbers further. Smart cars are just a piece of the puzzle. To reduce traffic congestion and related crashes, they need to be augmented with other data, such as dynamic maps.

The majority of the digital maps loaded in onboard navigation systems come from Navteq (www.navteq.com), a provider of digital maps for vehicle navigation and location-based solutions. Its data spans more than 50 countries and territories on five continents. Its field researchers, stationed in 127 offices across 21 countries, test-drive the highways and collect data on the ground. These "road warriors," as Navteq calls them, know the roads so intimately they can tell where a driver is likely to be halted by an Amish buggy or a bison. This real-world data is what enables Navteq to deliver accurate digital map data that is essential to turn-by-turn driving directions to a chosen destination, along with recalibrated drive time when the driver misses an exit.

Using the prototype vehicles at the ITS Congress, Navteq demonstrated some advanced features such as forward-collision warning, curve-speed warning, intelligent intersection and wireless map download. Forward-collision warning is intended for highway and urban environments. It's the outcome of Navteq's work with California Partners for Advance Transit and Highways (www.path.berkeley.edu) to enhance navigation with road infrastructure information, such as guardrails and overhead signs that could be mistakenly identified as hazards by vehicle sensors.

The intelligent intersection demonstration shows that it's possible for a car to recognize an upcoming intersection and alert the driver of the current state of that roadway. Navteq's Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Research Platform uses a Navteq map to determine the intersection the vehicle will approach, as well as other likely intersections the vehicle will encounter, allowing the application to provide the driver with as much information as possible.

 Figure 1. In Aimsun NG, a user can simultaneously view the network in 2D and 3D visualization modes.
Figure 1. In Aimsun NG, a user can simultaneously view the network in 2D and 3D visualization modes.

Aimsun NG, a suite of traffic analysis applications from Transport Simulation Systems (www.aimsun.com), functions like a virtual traffic lab. The software can import and manipulate GIS data from several sources, including ESRI (www.esri.com), Tele Atlas (www.teleatlas.com) and Navteq. It can also work with CAD files, aerial photos and shape files. Aimsun currently comes in several modules: Micro Simulator, Modeller, Planner and Server. City planners and transportation authorities can deploy the product to import origin-destination matrixes from Excel files, simulate different commute scenarios, examine the impacts of certain construction projects, identify potential bottlenecks, evaluate control systems, manage existing networks and so on (figures 1 and 2).

Figure 2. Aimsun NG s data visualization functions can range from a qualitative assessment with thematic drawing to a quantitative one such as regression analysis.
Figure 2. Aimsun NG s data visualization functions can range from a qualitative assessment with thematic drawing to a quantitative one such as regression analysis.

Traffic on I-74 in 2010 Will Be. . .

In 2003, IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) began replacing a section of Interstate 74, a major artery through the heart of downtown Peoria. Reportedly it was the single largest construction project IDOT had undertaken outside the Chicago metro area. The new section cuts across the city's riverfront district, bisects two large hospital complexes and flows into a regional shopping mall. It was important for all the interested parties to reach consensus on the end result. IDOT contracted inVision Studios (www.invisionstudios.com), a full-service virtual prototyping firm, to create a model of the project. The prototype let IDOT and its partners not only visualize the finished highway, but also make informed decisions on how aesthetic enhancements would affect the landscape. The company has recently developed a method to integrate statistically accurate traffic simulation data into its 3D environments (figure 3).

Figure 3. In roadway and traffic simulations, such as the I-294 near the Lincoln Oasis, traffic engineers provide inVision Studios with data from programs such as Vissim (<a href=www.vissim.com). This data is translated with proprietary software that allows artists at inVision to incorporate the traffic motion into a much more detailed and realistic environment (for Quicktime files of traffic simulation, go to www.invisionstudios. com/traffic.htm)."/>
Figure 3. In roadway and traffic simulations, such as the I-294 near the Lincoln Oasis, traffic engineers provide inVision Studios with data from programs such as Vissim (www.vissim.com). This data is translated with proprietary software that allows artists at inVision to incorporate the traffic motion into a much more detailed and realistic environment (for Quicktime files of traffic simulation, go to www.invisionstudios. com/traffic.htm).

The Streets of Tomorrow

Many of the innovations at the ITS Congress have been fueled, in part, by the developments in DSRC (dedicated short-range communication) standards, supporting both the public and the private sectors. The current 5.9GHz bandwidth allows the exchange of voice and graphics data with little or no latency (for more, see http://wireless.fcc.gov/services/its/dsrc/about/). The technology and the smart vehicles featured at the show are not likely to become commercially available for some time, and the VII implementation is still underway, but it gives us all something to look forward to.

Kenneth Wong is a former editor of Cadence magazine. As a freelance writer, he explores innovative use of technology and its implications. E-mail him at kennethwongsf@earthlink.net.


About the Author: Kenneth Wong


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