How we drive is set for major changes as the rise of advanced driver assistance systems, connected cars, and big data analytics make mobility quicker, safer, and greener. However, until recently, this next evolutionary stage of technology has largely inhabited the murky realms of slideware, rather than actual reality. How useful are vehicle-based wide area traffic networks, and what role can big data play in bringing order to the all too disordered road system?
To find out, NXP worked with numerous partners, including IBM, to equip 200 vehicles with an advanced telematics solution capable of GPS/GSM/GPRS mobile communications, advanced security, and in-car connectivity. Connected cars provide the raw data, securely transmitting information from the car's internal network to the cloud-based IBM Smarter Traffic Center. Big data analytics draws out the useful information, which is turned into driver updates through connected equipment ranging from smartphones to navigation systems.
Over a period of six months, IBM's analytics uncovered 48,000 traffic-relevant events from 1.8 billion sensor signals. These ranged from heavy rain, ice, and pot holes to traffic black spots and the use of hazard lights. Feeding this information back to drivers in the trial, who had already been trained in smart and green driving (driving smoother, preventing accidents, and saving fuel), raised their "urban driving style" scores on average by 10%. In addition, almost 75% of the cars involved reduced their fuel consumption (by 5% on average) in urban areas.
Trials such as this clearly show the benefits of combining the connected car and big data analysis. For example, extrapolating the average reduced fuel consumption from this trial to all passenger cars in the Netherlands would reduce annual CO2 emissions by 730 million tons and fuel costs by €800 million ($1.1 billion). In fact, the trial proved so useful that the taxi company involved continues to employ the system. It was even able to use transmitted data in an accident investigation. The resulting incident analysis clearly showed the taxi driver was not at fault.
The next step is wider sharing of useful data in the car's internal data network to further improve safety and traffic flow on the roads. This is being enabled by the dedicated automotive WiFi standard IEEE 802.11p, which will allow cars to share critical information with one another and with roadside infrastructure, which can then relay the data to a central traffic control center in the cloud.
Technology firms can help enable these innovative solutions, but government institutions can help turn them into an everyday reality on public roads. For example, the European Union's road safety program aims to cut road fatalities by 50% between 2011 and 2020. Part of this program is the mandating of e-call systems in new cars from the beginning of 2015 to ensure quicker emergency response. But the EU is also extending its efforts to stop accidents in the first place, and intelligent transport solutions will form the cornerstone of those efforts.
Will other places follow suit? In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation have been running extensive field trials on car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications. Similar trials are running in other countries. The recent ITS World Congress in Tokyo drew record numbers of industry, academia, and government representatives. Interest and momentum have never been higher. The time seems ripe for some bold decisions, and maybe not just from government, but also from car OEMS and the insurance industry. Good business and good policy can make a difference.
Drue Freeman is senior vice president for global automotive sales and marketing at NXP Semiconductors.