Advanced driver support systems act as an extra pair of eyes and ears, helping out when the driver fails to spot danger or inadvertently breaks the rules of the road. Foreseeable changes in the transport system will be based largely on driver behaviour and behaviour modification. It will be interesting to see whether drivers accept the new technology, and how they use it. Will the technology affect their driving and mobility on a more general level, for example, as the designers of the technology believe? Development work extends beyond road use on rubber tyres; systems are being developed for improving the traffic safety and comfort of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as increasing their opportunities for mobility.
Let’s take an example: a squirrel runs into the street in front of a line of cars; the first driver brakes suddenly to avoid hitting it.
What might happen today: The driver of the second car has just heard his ring tone, and at the critical moment looks at his phone to see who is calling. He sees too late that the car in front has stopped, and crashes into it.
What might happen soon: The first car’s sudden braking triggers a local wireless warning to the cars behind. The second driver, concentrating on his phone and unaware of events, hears the warning instantly relayed by his car and gains vital seconds of reaction time. A few dents might result, but the chain of crashing cars will be shorter than today’s.
What might happen in the future: The instant the second car is warned of sudden braking ahead, it stops by itself. The driver, lifting his eyes from the phone in surprise, but seeing no crashed cars, watches a squirrel scampering away before driving on.
Automation in road transport is spreading even more rapidly than we might have imagined. We are no longer talking about a single Google vehicle in California or Nevada; technologies such as intelligent cruise control and self-parking are already a reality, in Finland, too. Cars have developed rapidly over the past few years and continue to do so. The above is one example of how driver support is developing. Cooperative cars are already entering traffic, communicating with each other by sending local wireless warnings of slippery roads, sudden braking, a motorway standstill, or a blockage or other potentially dangerous situation. They also remind the driver of traffic signs, or indicate the best speed for approaching traffic lights so there is no need for the car to stop1. Cooperative systems such as these are already available on some cars as high-end accessories, but will soon be more common.
Cooperative driver support systems
VTT has been studying the effects of cooperative vehicle systems in extensive field tests under the DRIVE C2X project2, coordinated by Daimler together with the European car industry, vehicle system developers and other research institutes. VTT carried out field-testing in Tampere, where the drivers’ cars received information on slippery sections of road, roadside vehicle breakdowns, road works, and current traffic signs. Drivers were also warned if they were speeding. VTT’s responsibilities in the project also included the work package for assessing the impacts of the systems. This extensive project will determine the impacts of various cooperative driver support systems on driver behaviour, the amount of driving, traffic flow, environmental impacts and safety, as well as the cost-benefit ratios of the new systems and how readily users will adopt them. The results of the study will be ready by summer 2014. A further aim of the project is to support development of the systems and their wide adoption.
Shown to their best advantage, advanced driver support systems act as an extra pair of eyes and ears, assisting when the driver fails to spot danger or inadvertently breaks the rules of the road. The systems also warn or inform the driver of situations that the driver is not yet able to see for himself, such as an impending traffic jam. By directing cars to drive at a speed that prevents queuing at traffic lights, such systems can also improve urban traffic flow. Foreseeable changes in the transport system will be based largely on the behaviour and behaviour modification of the system users, in this case, drivers. It will be interesting to see whether the drivers accept the new technology, how they use it and whether, as the designers believe, the technology will affect their driving and mobility on a more general level.
Some questions remain unanswered. Will the new, ”easier” driving tempt people to drive in poorer conditions, or when tired? Will car mileage or the amount of driving increase? Determining and understanding the impacts of new systems will therefore be important. Transport policy objectives aim at increasing the number of pedestrian and bicycle journeys, as well as the use of public transport3. The danger is that the new driver support systems will work against this objective.
Services extend to other road users
Not all systems currently being developed to make road use easier and safer are aimed solely at passenger car traffic. Some that enable communication between other types of vehicle and the highway infrastructure are already in place. The vision of the ongoing TEAM project4 is to add smartphones and cloud services to the mix, and to encourage road users other than motorists to cooperate actively in traffic. The result could be new solutions for various transport chains, optimisation of public transport, or smoother traffic at intersections through intelligent right-of-way priorities.
Many systems supporting the use of public transport have long been familiar. Up-to-date modern route guides make travelling and everyday living easier, and turn public transport into a more attractive alternative. Applications covering all forms of transport display the different alternatives to private car use. The route guide also shows how motoring and public transport can be combined to enhance a journey through use of park-and-ride instead of parking in the city centre. Dynamic systems such as these, based on the real-time traffic situation or, better still, road condition forecasts, demand high-quality situational awareness of the state and condition of the entire transport system. VTT has been researching and developing the short-term forecasting of traffic flow and disruptions. The subject matter is particularly challenging, with traffic a highly dynamic phenomenon affected by a multitude of rules and human factors, and forecasts dependent on relatively scarce situational data.
Development work is not limited to road use on rubber tyres; the VRUITS project is developing systems for improving the safety and comfort of pedestrians and cyclists in traffic, as well as increasing their opportunities for mobility.5 Although there has been a long-term downward trend in the number of road traffic fatalities, this is not the case with pedestrians and cyclists, and in some locations fatalities have even increased. The goal is to ensure the present and future safety of traffic system users who are most vulnerable.
The transport system is changing, and the interaction between humans and the system changing with it. As automation increases it will be interesting to see if a shift takes place, for example in the interaction of pedestrians and cyclists with car users. Will drivers have more time and opportunity to observe other road users? Or will they simply leave everything to the car? If the latter turns out to be the case, the functioning and reliability of the car’s systems in various situations and conditions will become critical. Will pedestrians and cyclists place greater trust in either the car or its driver noticing them and giving way? What if only some cars are equipped with these sharp-eyed systems, and the rest continue to rely entirely on driver perception? Will these more accident-prone cars cancel the decrease in accidents brought about by the more advanced cars? What level of penetration is necessary before automated (autonomic) cars produce changes in interaction, and how quickly will these changes take place? This is an area requiring a significant amount of research in the years to come.
The next step will be a more general assessment of the effects of progress and proliferation of automation in road transport – beginning with the behaviour and behaviour modification of motorists and other road users, and ending with the effects at transport-system level. This assessment is made challenging by the slow rate of automation. The situation for some time to come will be one of traffic comprising fully manually operated cars and a gradually increasing number of more intelligent cars. Nor are the effects likely to be linear. The increase in vehicle automation will also affect traffic flow through human travel patterns and driving behaviour. The safe gap to the vehicle in front is smaller with a fully autonomous vehicle than with a traditional vehicle driven by a human. This increase in the road’s transport capacity can be maximised if vehicles are connected to each other in ’platoons’. The perception of ’normal’ driving held by those driving traditional vehicles may evolve to match that of drivers of autonomic vehicles as numbers increase, leading to a potential change in the dynamics of the entire traffic flow.
Some technically ready automatic driving systems are already available to consumers, although many questions remain over systems and schedule. Automation is nonetheless predicted to spread rapidly, with Mercedes, GM and Nissan promising a fully automatic vehicle by 2020. The boldest forecasts claim that up to 70 per cent of transport in 2030 will be fully automatic. The more conservative say it will take 30 years from the launch of a new system to achieve 95 per cent coverage. Estimates show, however, that even a ten-per-cent utilisation rate would have an impact, for example on traffic safety.6 Whenever it arrives, this change is something we shall be following with keen interest.
Satu Innamaa (DScTech) is a Senior Scientist in VTT’s Sustainable Transport Systems team.
Dr Innamaa joined VTT in 2002. Her areas of expertise include intelligent transport systems, their impact assessment and proactive transport management.
1.Laitinen J, Mäkinen T, Innamaa S and Penttinen M. (2013) Keskustelevat autot liikenteessä. Liikenteen suunta 4/2013. Finnish Transport Agency, Helsinki.
2.DRIVE C2X: www.drive-c2x.eu
3.Ministry of Transport and Communications (2013). Kohti uutta liikennepolitiikkaa, Älyä liikenteeseen ja viisautta liikkujille. Toisen sukupolven älystrategia liikenteelle. Ohjelmia ja strategioita 1/2013, MTC, Helsinki. 52 p.
6.Schagrin, M. and Gay, K. (2013). Developing a U.S. DOT Multimodal R&D Program Plan for Road Vehicle Automation. Retrieved on February 3, 2014 from http://www.its.dot.gov/presentations/CV_PublicMeeting2013/PDF/Day2_Automation.pdf