In April, the European Parliament voted in favour of legislation set to accelerate the roll-out of high-speed broadband both on land lines and to mobile devices. It means telecom operators will have to build fewer masts and dig fewer holes, but have access to existing infrastructure for a fair price, and is set to reduce costs by almost a third while enabling quicker installation.
While this is useful for boosting the usability of the smartphone, it’s also vital for the future of connected cars, adding functions which go beyond internet radio, social media access, downloading destinations to navigation or checking the doors are locked via an app, which we are already familiar with.
Safety is one of them. The eCall system, which automatically transmits location data via a cellular connection following a crash (and allows third parties to do so manually), will become mandatory from October 2015. Already fitted to many new cars, all EU Member States will be required to put the supporting infrastructure in place in the meantime.
Faster connectivity means cars can have ready access to an unprecedented amount of data. BMW’s i3 electric car, for example, uses its on-board connection to offer multimodal navigation. It can then calculate routes utilising public transport, based on a database of departure times, if the traffic ahead is too heavy.
This can also allow cars to communicate with each other and their surroundings, removing the unpredictability of GPS, radar and laser-based systems in poor weather. The European Commission recently invested $25m (£20.3m) to help make this happen, beginning a 42-month project led by Volkswagen to develop vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
Known as AdaptiVE (Automated Driving Applications and Technologies for Intelligent Vehicles), the project includes a consortium of 29 vehicle manufacturers, component manufacturers and academic institutions. Its end goal is a fleet of seven cars and a truck which can take control of most functions on motorways, urban roads and in close-distance manoeuvres using a combination of data connections and on-board sensors.
On a smaller scale, the Volvo-backed SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project has already demonstrated how small groups of vehicles could form a “platoon” behind a professional driver, mimicking the leader’s actions which would be transmitted wirelessly. With as little as six metres between the vehicles, SARTRE is claiming up to 20% improvements in fuel economy as a result of reduced drag.
There are synergies to be found with mobile data companies too. Renault and Orange unveiled the ZOE-based NEXT TWO prototype in February, which features a number of systems based on a 4G-LTE high-speed connection. It offers automated valet parking via a smartphone app, video calling and internet access through the dashboard while driving autonomously through urban traffic, and can carry out multi-modal route planning with the option to book train or bus tickets and parking.
Although still at an early stage, connected cars have the potential to improve safety, aid traffic flow and fuel economy through automated driving and provide efficiencies of time by helping to plan better. Promising signs for the future.