‘Talking’ cars for smoother and safer traffic flows

Working in conjunction with Flemish and European partners, imec develops a test environment for cooperative and connected cars over the next three years. The focus is on wireless communication and sensor technology for both car and driver.

by imec

One of the projects imec is focusing on is the European CONCORDA project that started end of 2017. Test sites with communication infrastructure for self-driving cars were set up in five countries: Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Belgium. ‘Self-driving’ in this case refers to cooperative, connected cars that exchange information with each other and their environment as they carry out a specific task, ‘together’. In all, twenty-six partners – car manufacturers, telecoms operators and providers, road managers and research institutions – have joined hands in the project.

The beginning of 2018 saw the start of the first part of a second project, ‘Smart Highway’, an initiative by the Flemish government. Smart Highway is complementary to the CONCORDA project and  focuses on location technology, driver monitoring and the construction of a prototype onboard unit (i.e. the hardware used inside the car so that it can communicate with other vehicles and with the road infrastructure). This onboard unit gives imec the opportunity to use its own software in the car.

In the CONCORDA project, imec is working with KU Leuven and the Flemish government’s department for mobility and public works. In the Smart Highway project, we have joined forces with Flanders Make.

Fewer accidents and traffic jams

The advantage of cooperative autonomous driving is that it allows for smoother traffic in a number of different ways. For instance, braking is less abrupt (than when the driver is in full control), maneuvers can be carried out more smoothly (such as changing lane) and there are fewer traffic jams because cars are able to drive more closely together, but still safely.

DSP Valley imec smart highway
Cars with an onboard unit and antenna can communicate with roadside units on the highway

There will also be fewer accidents because cars will be fitted with more and more sensors, radar devices and cameras. The ultimate aim is to have cars that ‘know’ and ‘see’ more than the driver. And in the even longer term, exchanging data between cars and the road infrastructure will make it possible for the vehicle to ‘see’ what’s around the corner or what’s happening ten cars ahead. The response time of a ‘machine’ (such as a car) is much faster and it interprets data more reliably than a human.

In the long term cooperative autonomous driving will lead to fewer accidents because the vehicle will be able to see around the corner or ten cars ahead.

The Antwerp ring road

The Belgian test sites for these projects are in Antwerp: 20 to 30 km of the E313/E34 (Antwerp – Ranst – in the direction of Turnhout). Later on it will probably be expanded to include part of the Antwerp ring road (R01) and the Turnhoutsebaan N12 road that leads to the city center.

Roadside units will be set up containing radios for communicating wirelessly with the project vehicles. Sensors to monitor the weather, road conditions (icy patches, aquaplaning), as well as cameras, etc. may also be installed in these roadside units, in conjunction with the Department for mobility and public works – and also depending on the final applications. The first prototypes of the roadside units are likely to be installed during the summer of 2018, while the full installation is planned for the first half of 2019.

The project partners will test – among others – the pros and cons of both 4G/LTE-V and WiFi-p for direct car-to-car / car-to-roadside communication. Solutions will be developed – based on distributed computing or mobile edge computing – to keep the delay to a minimum.