IoT Connectivity Leads to
Better Road Safety
IoT Connectivity Leads to
Better Road Safety
IoT Connectivity Leads to Better Road Safety
The Internet of Things is at the heart of the transportation industry’s transformation.
Implementing IoT (Internet of Things) technologies to solve transportation issues and improve road safety is just one example of how innovative technology solutions can drive positive change in people’s lives and businesses—possibly even improving the health of the planet. In today’s world we are all discovering there’s a lot in our world that can’t be controlled especially where a pandemic of unknown origin brings governments, citizens, and economies to their knees. However, there are some areas of society where innovation can be applied to make a difference for the greater good.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), approximately 1.35 million people die every year as a result of road traffic accidents, and up to 50 million more suffer non-fatal injuries. These numbers are too high from the human loss perspective, and they’re also too high from a cost perspective.
The WHO says road traffic crashes cost most countries 3% of their GDP (gross domestic product). What leads to unsafe roadways? A few factors including human driver error, speeding, driving while distracted or driving under the influence, failure to use safety equipment like seatbelts and helmets, unsafe vehicles, and hazardous road infrastructure.
The transportation industry at large is undergoing a transformation, and at the heart of this industry transformation is connectivity. The nature of the vehicle is also changing. The IoT is advancing vehicles and creating safer roadways in multiple, interrelated ways. It’s also opening the door to new risks that must be mitigated to keep people safe. In the end, this transformation will benefit humanity by saving lives and also lessening humans’ impact on the planet.
IoT in Vehicles
Connected technologies and the IoT are improving vehicle safety, efficiency, and convenience, as well as the overall user experience. Jonathan Stone, head of programs, research, and advanced engineering at Continental North America, says the data collected by these technologies can ultimately improve road safety by helping in decisionmaking or by automating control functions. “In the simplest view, the vehicle is an IoT device today,” Stone says. “(And it’s) the most expensive and complex one at that.”
Vehicle connectivity enhances safety through OTA (over-the-air) software updates to rapidly address cybersecurity threats, as well as the ability to inform drivers and vehicles of traffic incidents, road debris, and other hazards. “Congestion and traffic flow information aid drivers and vehicles to navigate more efficiently to their destinations with the added benefit of an improved carbon footprint per trip,” Stone says.
Of course, connectivity also brings new forms of convenience, enhancing the user experience with in-car personal assistants, OTA feature updates, and crowd-sourced traffic information. Connected vehicles can also tell owners and operators when something is wrong, thereby improving diagnostics and easing maintenance.
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Failure to use safety equipment
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The IoT is also improving how the industry goes about developing and testing connected-vehicle technologies. “As we design new vehicles and features, using anonymized data from existing vehicles on the road can help pinpoint what features are most important to customers and even those which are not being used as intended, triggering improved designs and a better experience for the driver,” Stone says. “(The) IoT can also offer major benefits during the development process—using realtime data collection and analysis during testing and validation to streamline the process.”
Elvira Wallis, vice president and global head of IoT at SAP, makes it a point to say that connectivity is transforming more than just personal vehicles. “When people say ‘vehicles,’ that’s already cutting it short. And here’s what I mean—very often it can be the forklift, it can be the trailer, it can be the truck,” she says. “So we just need to make sure that people don’t just think about their personal vehicles, because a lot of the use cases around vehicles or modes of transportation are really in the industrial realm where it’s not Joe’s, Tom’s, Dick’s, or Harry’s personal private car.”
For example, Wallis says SAP is doing a lot of work around forklifts in warehouses and trucks in Asia. The company is leveraging connectivity to understand vehicle/equipment use or employees’ driving patterns. Vehicle connectivity, therefore, is about more than just improving vehicle safety and occupant convenience; it’s about equipment management and fleet management—optimizing how businesses use their fleets, decreasing idle times, improving fuel efficiency, and, when applicable, ensuring compliance with hours-of-service restrictions.
Vehicle connectivity is also contributing to an industry transformation, giving stakeholders the ability to generate new revenue streams through telematics and fleet services, as well as V2X (vehicle-to-everything), autonomous driving, and ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) solutions.
Charlotte Lundén, head of sales readiness and connected vehicles at Ericsson, points out that most vehicles rolling out of factories today are connected, which allows vehicle manufacturers and partners to control and share vehicle data, customize and provide critical updates, optimize vehicle systems, and predict maintenance.
“As the vehicle rolls out of the factory today, it is just the first version of itself,” Lundén says. “Throughout the vehicle lifecycle, it will continuously be updated with the latest software version to stay at its best at all times. Software OTA updates secured through the cellular network make it possible to get (the) latest updates and perform at its best, all the time.”
The modern smart vehicle can tell us what it needs before it needs it, and this goes a long way toward improving road safety when this is paired with connected infrastructure. “(Connectivity) makes it possible for the vehicles to cooperate to a much larger extent,” Lundén says. “When vehicles are connected to other vehicles as well as (to) the transport ecosystem around them, improvements in traffic flow and safety are evident. Already today, we see early benefits of ADAS with features that help reduce collisions and injuries on the road. These benefits grow exponentially when vehicles are connected so they can share information with one another and with everything around them via a cellular network.”
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IoT and Smart Infrastructure
Connected infrastructure offers a true 360-degree view of the environment surrounding a vehicle. Darcy Bullock, professor of civil engineering and director of the Joint Transportation Research Program at Purdue University, suggests one of the simplest opportunities is for vehicles to “talk” to traffic signals and obtain the expected time a traffic signal will change.
Edge computing is going to be a key piece of this puzzle. “Edge computing is critical,” Bullock says. “There are over 400,000 traffic signals in the United States. The traffic signal interface is a good example of edge computing, but there are many other uses in the transportation sector, such as public transit and electric scooters.”
For transportation in general, Bullock says things have gone on in more or less the same way for decades, but that’s changing thanks to IoT technologies. “For the past 50 years, the automotive industry has built cars and government entities have built roads and operated transit agencies,” he explains. “We are now in a period where government agencies need to develop ways to interact with a variety of private-sector stakeholders, such as the automotive industry and Google/Apple maps. This is an exciting time in the academic world to be part of the research and innovation that develops these collaboration models.”
Another academic, Jerome Lynch, professor and department chair in the Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Michigan, says IoT technologies will continue to be a driving force in making roads safer. Connected-car technologies allow vehicles to see the world with greater precision and clarity, while wireless telemetry allows them to communicate with each other and with the infrastructure. “When properly fused, the world around a vehicle can be quantitatively modeled and used to enhance the safety features of the vehicle,” Lynch says. “For example, GPS measurements communicated by wireless communication can allow cars to anticipate the actions of other cars on the road and see issues before the driver can—(like) non-line-of-sight safety hazards.”
Smart infrastructure has a major role to play in the future of transportation. “Sensors and wireless telemetry embedded in our physical infrastructure is already occurring, allowing engineers to understand how infrastructure is deteriorating, leading to more efficient management of our infrastructure,” Lynch adds.
“Also, data coming off of smart infrastructure is rapidly creating greater interest for private investors to invest in infrastructure, helping our nation address looming financing gaps in funding our public infrastructure. Data coming from our infrastructure can also be monetized to create new investment streams in renewal.”
As with any relatively new technology, there are risks to its use. Lynch says the first risk to consider is the privacy of individuals using connected vehicles, especially when it comes to location tracking. Another concern is the security of these systems. “Wireless communications opens a vehicle to the world,” he says. “If cybersecurity is not sufficiently robust, some bad people could access the vehicle and jeopardize its safety.”
According to Na Jiao, technology analyst at IDTechEx, self-driving technologies and connected and autonomous vehicles add another layer of vulnerability to cyberattacks. The concern is not only the vehicles themselves, but also the environment in which the vehicles operate. “The threats to autonomous cars can come through any system connected to the vehicle’s sensors, communication applications, processors, control systems, and external inputs from other cars, infrastructure, and mapping and GPS data systems,” she says.
Chris Greer, director of the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Smart Grid and Cyber-Physical Systems Program, says by contributing greater and more accurate awareness to vehicles, technology can indeed produce a roadway environment that exhibits better driver and driverless vehicle decisions, but there is also risk. “The key to managing risk is to ensure that we’re able to measure those risks reliably and accurately,” Greer says.
As long as the industry considers risks and continuously looks for ways to mitigate these risks, it’s safe to assume connectivity will revolutionize road safety. It may even shift the transportation paradigm.
IDTechEx’s Jiao says shared mobility services like ride-hailing and car-sharing are promising business models for a more sustainable transportation system—one that could potentially reduce the number of cars on road while improving traffic efficiency and convenience for passengers.
“However, at least for the time being, (ride-hailing and car-sharing) haven’t really solved the problems such as traffic congestion, and they have had little impact on private-car ownership,” Jiao says. “Currently, they are still more expensive than owning a private car. Therefore, they are at most a complementary option for private driving. However, mobility services enabled by autonomous-driving technologies, which allows fleet operators to eliminate the biggest operation cost, the human driver, will open a pathway towards a cheaper alternative to purchasing and owning a private car.”
IDTechEx research suggests autonomous cars and robotaxis could become a $2.5 trillion market by 2040. Continental’s Stone envisions the future will entail “seamless mobility”—smooth and intuitive interaction between different mobility offerings and concepts (i.e., public transit, driverless shuttles, personal vehicles, and scooters), providing a safe and stress-free travel experience. “These systems work most efficiently when they know the whereabouts of their customers, vehicles, and what is in between,” Stone adds. “We’re used to personal mobility with our own vehicles where we can get in and go as needed. Access to mobility needs to be near or on par with what we’re familiar with today, and the IoT enables data collection and provides the relevant information for rideshare solutions and autonomous robotaxis to meet our expectations.”
Ericsson’s Lundén says new business models are giving way to new revenue models that enable stakeholders to share economic gains. “Vehicle manufacturers are being redefined as service providers for new on-demand, in-vehicle services to their customers,” Lundén explains. “This new world calls for increased cross-border collaboration across all industries along with the formation of new alliances.”
What’s more, edge computing and 5G networks, with its millisecond latencies, high-bandwidth, and network-slicing capabilities, are providing the tools needed to fundamentally change the transportation industry. “Edge computing provides a means for processing data closer to the vehicles,” Lundén concludes.
“This has an impact on reducing the delay for time-critical applications such that processed information from a vehicle can be shared faster with other vehicles, humans, and infrastructure. Also, the information flow in the network can be dramatically improved by local processing of data that only need to be available in a local area and for those few vehicles present in that area. Only information from vehicles that benefit from information from a larger area is then processed in a distributed or centralized computing manner.”
Connected technologies allow vehicles to be more aware of their operations and environment and to make better decisions. This will ultimately lead to improved road safety—and more. The University of Michigan’s Lynch says he and his colleagues are particularly excited about how connected vehicles will usher in an era of much more sustainable mobility with significantly lower carbon emissions. With improved road safety and improved sustainability to gain, vehicle and infrastructure connectivity is worth the industry’s continued discussion, investment, and push toward innovation.
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