European efforts for more intelligent transport systems have a long history with the first programmes focusing on Road Transport Informatics (RTI) dating back to the 1980’s. The corresponding Intelligent Vehicles Safety Systems started even earlier in the late 1950’s by progressing from passive safety systems towards truly pro-active safety functions we envision today. The state of the art in road and vehicle safety is today represented by the concept of cooperative driving. Current cooperative driving is based on vehicles communicating with each other – widely regarded as vehicle-2-vehicle communication – and with the infrastructure – accordingly named vehicle-2-infrastructure communication. This development has been driven mainly by safety needs to provide travellers sufficient information early enough to be able to respond to dynamic traffic situations. Additionally, vehicles anonymously announcing their general position and velocity are set to be far more effective for assessing current traffic conditions and improving general traffic efficiency. Thus, vehicle-2-x communication technology (the “x” stands for vehicles and infrastructure) extends the range of vehicle sensors to yet unseen distances allowing vehicles to “see” around corners and warn drivers of upcoming dangers, making sure she or he can act in due time to avoid an accident or at least mitigate its impact.
Paving the road for communication till 2015
Recent years and research projects have been dedicated to test and assess vehicle-2-x communication under real world conditions. Europe’s largest field operational trial was successfully concluded in Germany with over 500 drivers travelling 1.6 million kilometres in one of 120 vehicles. By 2015 this technology will be included in new vehicles saving up to 11 billion euros in Germany alone due to accidents avoided and travel times reduced. These estimated savings, however, rely on a rapid adoption of vehicle-2-x communication not only by vehicle manufacturers but also road and infrastructure operators. Therefore, in a first step to full deployment, Dutch, German, and Austrian authorities agreed to establish an intelligent corridor ranging from Rotterdam in the Netherlands via Frankfurt/Main in Germany to Vienna in Austria where construction areas are announced wirelessly to the equipped vehicles. This corridor will be the first installation of cooperative traffic where vehicles and road infrastructure work together.
The road ahead
However, the possibilities of cooperative traffic do not stop there. Just like the Internet, vehicle-2-x communication technology is providing a link between travellers and not just their vehicles. Therefore, the next task is to join those travellers (which include drivers and any type of road users) and the infrastructure operators in a collaborative network to solve various travel needs all the way from eco-friendly parking to short-term decisions on trip planning. Collaboration is the key concept of a future mobility approach, which extends the cooperative concept of the first generation systems and applications – such as travel time optimizing navigation systems – by including the human user in a highly integrated cooperative, interactive, and participatory network. In this collaborative concept, it is not only the systems and vehicles that communicate, but all actors (systems and humans) are engaged in a continuous bi-directional, dynamic exchange of information allowing for pro-active traffic system management which encourages active participation and interaction of road users.
Mobility research so far has been focused on safety systems and applications relieving drivers from the most exhausting tasks. However, further improvements require a behavioural change in all road users and operators in the direction of a collaborative pro-active mobility management that steers the network of users towards an optimum of network level benefits (as opposed to simply maximizing individual benefits). Acceptance of such a collaborative mobility concept – that ties together interaction with participation and will achieve progress beyond simple cooperation – requires continuous coaching of travellers and drivers not only while driving but also within the realm of other co-modality options. The objective of this coaching is to support the traveller pro-actively with adequate hints tailored to his or her current situation.
From static to elastic infrastructures
The overall effect of collaborative mobility will be the necessary balancing of the needs of all road users and road operators alike, thereby extending towards all citizens. Future cities will be built on benefits that will accrue in making the transition from the static concept of mobility arising from the needs of individual road users only, to a community-aware and adaptive concept of mobility using reliable real-time data, capturing the needs and intentions of all travellers. Social awareness will regard actions encouraging road users to follow collaborative strategies that benefit all road users as a group. Elastic infrastructures refer to the ability of the road operator to react to the needs of all road users without having to strain the environment by building new roads.