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Connected vehicles: Help or hindrance?

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Despite the many benefits of connected vehicles being touted in the press, it all sounds great, but do we really want to put our autonomy, and therefore safety in the hands of a wilfully minded machine? The experts at SGS help us to decide.

Growth in the market for connected automobiles has snowballed. It is estimated 76.3 million cars on our roads will be connected by the year 2023, up from 28.5 million in 2019. By 2025, and even following the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the market is predicted to be worth 166 billion USD.

Autonomous road transport is the goal for many, but for consumers this technology is already appearing on our roads in the form of connected vehicles.

What is a connected vehicle?

A connected vehicle is one that is cognisant of the world around it via access to the internet and, often, a wireless local area network (WLAN). It can access data, send data, download software and patches, and communicate with other Internet of Things (IoT) devices. It can also give Wi-Fi access to onboard passengers – that’ll please any teenage passengers.

Connective technology enhances the driving experience by improving safety, security, navigation, infotainment options and onboard diagnostics.

By establishing bi-directional communication between vehicles, mobile devices and infrastructure networks, the vehicle can receive triggered communications from other users on the network. T

his might include other vehicles, traffic and intersection monitoring systems and remote payment systems (e.g., tolls). Through communication with these systems, the connected vehicle can build up a picture of the environment that surrounds it, thereby allowing it to interact and react in a safe and efficient manner.  

Connective systems include:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Route planning systems to avoid congestion/accidents/roadworks
  • Automatic braking systems
  • Smartphone connectivity
  • Diagnostic data sharing to remind the owner about servicing, etc.
  • Location identification if the vehicle is stolen or misplaced
  • Automatic payment systems.

Connectivity is achieved through embedding or tethering technology to the car. Embedded technologies will often operate without the knowledge of the driver, who will only recognise their impact when they are triggered. For example, dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) or Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) radios with very low latency can be used in safety-critical features to trigger braking before a collision.

Tethered technologies, however, require the operator to connect an additional piece of equipment to the vehicle – e.g., a smartphone. The driver then has access to the functionality of the smartphone through the vehicle, allowing them to make telephone calls, listen to music, etc.

Safety first

Beyond expanding the infotainment options for occupants, the primary reason for many consumers to buy a connected vehicle is its enhanced safety. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has said that its efforts had previously been aimed at helping people to survive crashes but, “connected vehicle technology will change that paradigm by giving people the tools to avoid crashes.”  

Allowing the vehicle to interact and respond with the world around it will give the driver 360-degree awareness of hazards and situations that may be invisible to them. The technology can alert them to imminent crash situations, thereby speeding up their responses or, in some cases, responding for them.  

However, the safety benefits of this technology will be removed if it becomes a distraction. Instead, much of the connective technology in our vehicles must be hidden and only become apparent to the driver when it is needed. Some people are distracted by their air freshener so probably for the best.

5G

The next step for connected vehicles is the introduction and incorporation of 5G technology. This will allow cars to ‘talk’ to one another in near real time. The advantages of this will be profound, making it the next step towards fully autonomous vehicle.

For example, it will allow:

  • Cars travelling in opposite directions to share road condition data
  • Cars to communicate their position to enable safe driving at higher speeds
  • Cars to determine which has the right of way at stoplights, etc.
  • Real-time network communication to find parking spaces, addresses, avoid congestion, etc.
  • Safer travel through a reduction in accidents.

This technology is currently in development. Today, it can cope with simplified highways, but the complexity of real-life situations means workable systems for safe navigation are still a few years away.

Perhaps more than a few years. Overall, I think being able to locate a vehicle if it’s stolen, great; potential extra safety features, great. But is there the danger those who don’t need to, might start to rely a little too heavily on their vehicle’s “judgement”?

There is such thing as human error, but with ‘technical issues’ being a phrase I hear daily, machines certainly aren’t infallible either. We’re definitely on the right road, pun intended, but we still have quite the journey ahead of us.

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