Among the more significant intelligent transport research projects of recent times is DRIVE C2X, launched at the beginning of 2011, which tests and develops new intelligent transport services based on communication between vehicles. The project, which concludes this year, has gained extra visibility through the participation, in addition to European research institutes, of a number of European car manufacturers.
In terms of its EUR 2.1 million budget and working hours contributed, VTT has the largest contribution in the project. The party responsible for project coordination is the German car and commercial vehicle manufacturer Daimler.
– Daimler has been promoting the development of active traffic safety for a long time. We believe safety can be boosted by increasing data transfer between vehicles and the transport infrastructure, says Matthias Schulze, Senior Manager of research at Daimler AG.
Schulze is fulsome in his praise of the cooperation performed with VTT, and the Finnish testing conditions used most recently during November–December 2013. Applications that included i.e. weather warning for drivers was tested by more than 80 drivers at the VTT test site in Tampere. Information on slippery roads and traffic signs was transmitted to vehicles approximately 400–500 metres in advance. Transmission occurred both between the various vehicles and through the roadside infrastructure. VTT was responsible for steering the testing in Tampere and for collection and analysis of data from all test sites, to be completed this spring. Also impact assessment was under VTT’s responsibility in the project. DRIVE C2X traffic tests have also been held in Germany, France, and Italy and elsewhere.
– The aim has been to take account of all the different forms of urban traffic. Finland was ideal as a testing site because of its natural winter conditions. It would have been difficult to carry out these tests in Germany, Schulze points out.
Helsinki-St. Petersburg smart transport corridor expands
VTT is involved in the ongoing Helsinki-St. Petersburg smart transport corridor project, which aims at promoting the start of intelligent transport services between Finland and Russia. The pilots being implemented include real-time services giving information on weather and road conditions and traffic incidents, and public transport information both onboard for train passengers and at the destination cities to all users.
In addition to better and safer traffic, the project aims at expediting new business operations for intelligent transport and creating the conditions for opening up the traffic data produced by service providers. The pilot is scheduled to end in June 2014, when its results will be presented at the ITS European Congress in Helsinki. VTT will be there, displaying Finnish research competence in the form of various demonstrations.
– Discussions are taking place on expanding the smart transport corridor project to Sweden and Moscow, and beyond. Apart from passenger traffic, similar services would also be needed in freight traffic, sea transport, and logistics. Russia is also interested in ensuring interoperability between the pan-European eCall in-vehicle emergency call service and the ERA-Glonass emergency message system, and in expanding their use, says Jukka Laitinen, Research Team Leader at VTT.
The position Finland holds in the development of intelligent transport between the EU and Russia is unique in many ways. Both parties hope for new, cross-border services, for which the good dialogue that Finland has with Russia serves as a solid starting point.
– Despite occasional unforeseen delays in the Russian direction, our role in intelligent transport projects between Russia and the EU is a strong one, says Laitinen.
VTT’s technical strengths lie i.e. in the optical sensor technology for collecting road condition information and detection of slippery conditions. The scope of commercial intelligent transport applications that can be derived from this is so wide that predicting the next hit product to match the success of the navigator is quite a challenge.
– Finland has the technical readiness for various kinds of applications. For example, we are capable of producing large amounts of traffic data for various kinds of services. Similar opportunities are emerging all the time as new sources of information open up. Where intelligent transport business is concerned, a much bigger question is what the consumers are prepared to spend their money on, Laitinen says.
In spite of the challenges, Schulze believes an increasing number of road users in 2020 will be using services provided by the intelligent transport system. He sees a common desire among car manufacturers to introduce modern solutions in mass-produced cars. At this point it is essential that various actors commit themselves to making investments in new infrastructures, equipment and technology.
– We want to continue exploring the opportunities offered by intelligent transport. One of the most interesting areas of research is associated with automated driving, for which we are seeking EU funding with VTT, says Schulze.
Traffic safety and competence in road weather information
Intelligent transport is about services taking advantage of advanced technologies that make basic everyday functions easier. Development is based on the needs and expectations of ordinary people. People use the voluntary services they find useful, and agree on their use, terms and conditions with their individual service providers.
Official services, on the other hand, are an entirely different domain, where important issues to be considered include protection of privacy. One example of an official service that improves traffic safety is the eCall in-vehicle emergency call service, based on the European emergency number 112. The service will be introduced in EU Member States no later than 2017, when it will become mandatory in all new car and van models seeking type approval.
In the event of a road accident, the car’s sensors detect the impact and activate an automatic data transmission from the in-vehicle system (IVS) to the nearest public safety answering point (PSAP) giving the vehicle’s exact geographic location and other essential data for rescue operations. After transmission of this minimum data set (MSD), the eCall in-vehicle system opens an audio connection between the vehicle and the public safety answering point where eCalls and other emergency calls are received and processed. VTT has been developing the eCall system in collaboration with the European Commission, Member States, the industry, authorities, and other research institutes for approximately 10 years. The latest cooperation effort was the HeERO project, implemented in 2011–2014, with the participation of 15 countries and 82 partners.
– eCall will create business opportunities in the retrofitting of heavy goods vehicles, and cars and vans type-approved before 2017. It can be implemented as part of commercial service packages for road users, for example, says Raine Hautala, leader of the TransSmart spearhead project’s Transport Services theme.
The development of intelligent transport services entails a number of win-win situations that will promote traffic safety and fluency of traffic and provide new export and business opportunities for Finnish companies. Good examples of this are the intelligent solutions and services related to road weather information, relevant measuring technologies, and winter maintenance. Finland is brimming with top competence in this area. Road traffic snow-how has been promoted among others in the FIRWE project (Finnish Road Weather Excellence) in collaboration with Arctic Machine, Foreca, Teconer, Vaisala and the University of Oulu.
– Developing this product and service entity in collaboration with the top actors in the sector has been a great experience. High-quality competence in road weather conditions and winter maintenance keep Finnish roads and airports open even under the most challenging of conditions, sparking interest from various countries. As extreme weather phenomena multiply, the business potential of this kind of competence will increase, Hautala believes.
VTT has also been involved in the development of other practical solutions, including the Vaisala road weather station, and the traffic monitoring system for official use, commercialised a few years ago, enabling easier detection of road user traffic violations.
– Finding suitable business partners for intelligent transport research has been fairly easy. The sector has proved to have good potential for growth, although the success stories within the game sector have given a slightly skewed image of the opportunities available. Hitting the jackpot in the intelligent transport sector is far more difficult. It requires a lot of research for a start, says Laitinen.
– And the research has to include enough information on the impact of the services and their benefits. Assessing and validating this information is one of VTT’s strengths, Hautala continues.
Intelligent transport is about services taking advantage of advanced technologies that make day-to-day mobility easier.
New opportunities from changes in mobility
In addition to automated driving, the future will bring other mobility-enhancing devices and methods that lay the foundations for new business activity. Hautala sees a major systemic change now taking place that will enable more intelligent mobility with lower carbon emissions, as well as more efficient use of the existing transport infrastructure.
– This change will also bring new opportunities for Finnish industry and research. Authorities will also play an important role in this process as facilitators of agile experiments and the rapid introduction of user-centric solutions.
Smoother integration and more efficient use of data available from various sources will make linking of different travel chains and implementation of new service concepts easier in accordance with the Mobility-as-a-Service principle. This will mean less need to own a car or provide parking spaces, while the authorities will solve traffic problems through buying more services and enhanced service levels rather than building expensive infrastructures. For the ordinary traveller, leaving on holiday, for example, it will be an easy task to plan the car drive to a suitable train station, book a parking space in the station car park, and confirm the necessary transport connections to the nearest airport.
– Although intelligent transport holds clear export opportunities for Finnish industry, realising this potential will require a lot of work, as well as new tools. VTT is developing the proper tools in collaboration with companies, authorities and other cooperation partners, among others within the ITS Finland intelligent transport network, says Hautala.