Communication with your car is about to get a lot closer, and the roads a lot safer
Seat belts and smart cameras are a few ways that automobiles actively protect passengers. Should your or another driver’s judgment fail, these features create a buffer between you and serious injury or death. This buffer is responsible for a great reduction in the number of traffic deaths, yet visit any emergency ward, anywhere in the world, and you’ll see that there is still much room for improvement.
Illustration of car accidents and warning messages
“About ten years ago, car makers sat together and said that they did whatever they could do in terms of passive safety systems such as airbags and seat belts,” said Dr. Fethi Filali, Senior R&D Expert and Technology Lead at Qatar Mobility Innovations Center (QMIC), and lead Principal Investigator of a National Priorities Research Program project to advance intelligent systems in vehicles. “So we said, let’s work on another type of technology that is more active; this means that cars need to talk to each other and to road-side infrastructure with the end result of informing the driver about any imminent danger and avoiding crashes.”
The first priority in developing the technology is to enhance safety through alerting drivers about potential accidents
Dr. Filali said that recent studies have shown that at least 80 percent of accidents involve at least some form of driver distraction within three seconds of the crash, meaning that the driver was unable to see what was coming before the crash. The technology under study through the Qatar-based Cooperative Cars and Roads for Safer and Intelligent Transportation Systems (CopITS) project is targeting a communication system between vehicles and between the vehicles and roadside units that will inform the driver through audible, visual, and even tactile alerts (vibration in the steering wheel or the seat) depending on the gravity of the situation.
“There are a lot of studies that have been done in the US and Europe that showed that if you combine vehicle-to-vehicle communication and vehicle-to-infrastructure together there will be a reduction of up to 81 percent of the accidents—that is when we have high penetration of the technology.
Qatar’s project is just one around the world contributing to this technology, but it is the only applied research project in the GCC contributing to its development and standardization. For example, studies in Europe and the US have targeted ways of informing the driver of conditions without distracting them, for example.
“They are using pilot tests—known in Europe as Field Operational Tests—to collect and analyze huge data in addition to distributing questionnaires to the public. These tests involve hundreds of cars and hundreds of normal drivers” Dr. Filali said. They are very important to make sure that we arrive at good technology that presents the information to the driver in different situations and in highly-optimized ways.”
The technology developed needs to be standardized, like cell phone technology, so that cars can talk to each other no matter their make or model and no matter where in the world they are. Over the long run, the technology will be fitted automatically into every new car. In the meantime, it will be available as an after-market product that can be retrofitted. Dr. Filali said that his team estimates the first units will be used around Qatar in about three to five years, yet it will take about 15 to 20 years to reach a point of 90 percent penetration around the world with the technology.
“We see Qatar as a good place to do a pilot and optimize this technology because the rate of purchase of new cars here is maybe one of the highest in the world, so most probably the penetration of this technology will be faster than in other places.”
The first objective of the work being done in Qatar is to address local requirements and driving challenges specific to the nation, especially in terms of road safety applications. Dr. Filali said that the work being done in Qatar will not overlap that being done in Europe or the United States.
“Qatar has recently launched a ten-year National Road Safety Strategy, with a lot of recommendations to reduce road accidents in Qatar and improve road safety,” Dr. Filali said. “So this is really in line with that strategy and in the long term we will be able to implement many road safety actions. If you analyze accidents here in Qatar, you find that most of them are due to driver distraction or speeding. So we need to give priority in terms of safety applications to reduce the number of accidents and achieve the objectives of the Qatar road safety strategy”
Filali's research team and demo car
The applications of connected vehicle technology are divided into three categories: road safety, traffic efficiency and value-added services. Improving road safety is the most important focus of the technology, followed by features that inform drivers about roadworks or a traffic jam ahead. Value-added services will allow people in different vehicles to exchange videos and media.
Dr. Filali's team and their demo Volkswagon Tiguan
The theoretical coverage area of this technology is one kilometer. Within this range, cars will be able to communicate free of charge since the signal is based on short-range communications with a coverage range much higher than Wi-Fi.
In addition to addressing nation-specific traffic and safety issues, the CopITS project will contribute to the standards being adopted worldwide. Qatar Mobility Innovations center (QMIC) is a member of ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), one of the leading standards developing organizations. Dr. Filali’s connected vehicle team participates actively, every three months, in technology committee meetings and every six months in test events aimed at testing the interoperability between vendors’ prototypes and their compliance to the standard. He said they have access to the latest drafts of the standards, and implement them in QMIC’s connected car.
“We have our own connected car and we are using it for demonstrations. It’s a VW Tiguan. We work with VW because Qatar has a big share in the VW group. We are partnering with them to demonstrate our in-car, built-in infotainment/navigation system—the drivers will not see any additional device, so they will think it’s through the same navigation system. In a period of two to four months we are looking to upgrade the installed system in our model car to enable this seamless integration and add more standard-compliant capabilities and applications.”
Dr. Filali said that carmakers want the technology streamlined to the point of costing less than US$ 100, which seems really low but could be achieved when the parts are produced in bulk. He said there would also be a lot of incentives around this technology on the part of governments, who will back it for its potential to enhance road safety significantly.
The CopITS team is based entirely in Qatar, and Dr. Filali said he is grateful for the support of QNRF, which has allowed them to make significant progress and even achieve patents in this critical field.
CopITS: Cooperative Cars and Roads for Safer and Intelligent Transportation Systems