Self-driving cars on Dutch motorways. Homes that are able to charge electric cars at exactly the right moment at the best price. We use our smartphones, tablets and corresponding smart gear to monitor and adjust everything. We are permanently connected, wherever we go. Or perhaps not quite yet?
Article from Objective 22, 2014
Internet of things
Connected mobility is part of the development of the ‘internet of things’, where everything is connected with everything. Being connected is interesting particularly if a large number of users is involved. In that case technology can ensure efficient use of the energy network, for instance. Or of the road network, while road users can also be more certain about the length of their journey. This requires more than just a timer on an electrical appliance or a standard journey planner in cars. It requires pioneering!
Negotiating maximum efficiency
Let’s take a look at the definition. Connected mobility happens in the world of traffic and transport. We’re talking pure ICT here: hardware and software that respond to a demand. Sometimes peer-to-peer, for instance in the case of two cars, where one informs the other that it has to make an emergency stop and the second car actually does this, on time. Sometimes through a control center that combines all data streams, including road works, traffic density, local weather conditions, the kind of road etc. and processes them to produce the appropriate travel recommendation. In these cases, the hardware and software are constantly negotiating with each other in order to achieve maximum efficiency. For instance by planning the journey and the charging process so that the electric vehicle won’t run out of battery during the journey.
New chips and protocols
In the ideal future scenario of connected mobility, an electric car will know through a smartphone at what moment it is scheduled to make its next journey. The charger therefore knows at what point in time the car needs to be fully charged again. The smart charger includes the fluctuating energy supply and corresponding price fluctuations in its calculations to find the cheapest and best moment to charge. Projects such as powerUp or ‘Jouw Energie Moment’ make this possible, albeit in limited form. Pioneer phases usually involve many different initiatives that are all still looking for the best standards. How do they work together and what are the corresponding protocols and technologies that are necessary to enable high-quality and safe communication between various devices? These standards are necessary to develop software building blocks and specialist chips, which in turn have to ensure a price level that makes a large-scale market launch viable.
Thinking in terms of networks
Back to what exists already. Even before you go on your way, connected mobility is already enhancing the route planner’s travel recommendation with real-time information about the traffic situation. In this way, a planned journey can be evaluated and adapted even before it starts; an app gives a warning that you have to leave earlier if you want to arrive at your appointment on time. A service such as Fillejeppen already offers this possibility; it will become even more valuable as more open data becomes available. The actual traffic situation is taken into account once you are on the road. A project such as Blikr is already experimenting with this on a small scale and offers motorists information through an app, for instance about the best lane to travel in because there is a convoy of freight trucks ahead, or a speed recommendation related to an upcoming or dissolving traffic jam. The information is currently limited to the level of the individual driver, but it already involves so-called cooperative driving: the driver follows the recommendations that he receives via the app and that are generated by the road and the collective body of cars. A more extensive pilot conducted in Brabant in 2015 in the context of the Spookfiles A58 project develops this idea further. It integrates and develops the results of and lessons from Blikr in Filejeppen to combat phantom jams on and around the A58 motorway. In addition to and in connection with the smartphone, a smart, small box is installed in cars that maintains the connection between the cars and between cars and the roadside.
This connection enables direct vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-roadside interaction. The communication between vehicles happens via mobile WiFi-p (G5, the communication technology based on IEEE 802.11p), for instance to warn following vehicles that a vehicle ahead has made an emergency stop or that some other unusual situation has occurred. Reliability is very important; the new autonomous feature has to perform properly under all circumstances and the information has to be complete. Over the coming years these systems will grow step by step into a standard implementation. It’s a gradual process because it’s still necessary to explore how they have to function, but also because it requires new – costly – hardware.
There are a number of security and privacy issues concerning the data streams and data storage. Data about the location of cars is spread across various systems, devices and networks; that has to be safe. And if we want consumer trust in this technology to grow, we will also have to address the privacy issue. Various social media experts are arguing that privacy is a thing of the past, but at the same time, initiatives are being taken at the European level to protect privacy better. The question here is who is responsible. We are still many negotiations away from connected mobility becoming the standard.
Connected mobility literally requires constant connection. But the responsibilities, for instance for management, will be different than they are for current structures. Take the energy market, for example. In the past, the chain ran from a central supplier to a peripheral user. But today, decentralized generation is causing multidirectional flows. This requires a different way of monitoring and steering. And who is ultimately responsible or accountable for this new layer of information? Initiatives and movements are already underway in the energy market to answer these questions. This has yet to happen in road management. Who is going to be responsible, for instance, for managing connections between dozens of vehicles that are together trying to prevent a traffic jam? Commercial parties are funding the development of these solutions mainly from their own innovation budgets. Will the government subsequently purchase this data or is there going to be a new management body? And what responsibility will an institution like that have? These questions have to be answered to be able to create a basis for connected mobility on a large or larger scale.
A certain future?
At the same time, there is a growing sense that connected mobility also brings many benefits. Safer traffic being the most important one, with possibly up to 80% fewer incidents and accidents than there are currently. Its decentralized nature makes it more complex, but precisely this complexity also makes it more robust. Computing power will suddenly be available everywhere, making it more difficult for the system to fail. Moreover, thinking in terms of networks offers us more certainty as individuals. To give one example: setting a speed limit of 60 kilometers an hour at certain times would ensure that we all get home earlier because it avoids traffic jams. Finally, the required open data exchange between the several parts will lead to the availability of more information. This in turn makes it possible to envisage new services, also in other fields: more efficient and safer freight traffic on the road, for instance. Or better use of our inland waterways in the vicinity of movable bridges. It will take a while and its advance is gradual. But connected mobility is going to happen!