Developing Eco-driving technologies and skills from research to practice

By Anouk Van den Bussche

Driving a car inevitably means consuming fuel and impacting the environment. According to the European Environment Agency 24% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union are to be attributed to the transport sector in general and 17% directly to road transport. Could the way we drive really improve these figures? Eco-driving experts believe it can and should.


Although newly manufactured vehicles have integrated advanced technologies focussed on lowering environmental impact new hybrid and electric vehicles have not yet replaced the current fleet of cars and trucks circulating in Europe and can’t alone address the environmental impact issue. In fact between 1990 and 2010 the CO2 emissions produced by road transport have increased by nearly 23%. But fuel efficiency is only one side of the coin and environmentally friendly driving behaviour is also key to reducing our fuel consumption. 

Becoming a European priority the European strategy on clean and efficient vehicles also contributes to the Europe 2020 objectives of smart and sustainable growth. The “CO2 and cars” working group of the second European Climate Change Programme (ECCP II) which is the EC’s main instrument to discuss and prepare the further development of the EU’s climate policy has identified eco-innovations as an essential solution to reducing emissions from cars and incentive for the automotive industry to invest in them. The strategy was also integrated in the 2011 ‘White Paper on Transport’ defining a roadmap and action plan to be implemented by the European Commission in order to achieve more efficient and less polluting road transports. From this perspective a certain number of EU funded research and deployment projects focus on making transports greener also by optimising the benefits of eco-driving. 

But what exactly is eco-driving? 

Eco-driving is based on driver behaviour. By analysing and adapting their behaviour significant savings can be made in terms of fuel consumption. Protecting the environment is the motto of this new driving culture. Basically by following certain eco-driving principles the same route can be travelled using less fuel and thus reducing C02 emissions as well as making savings and driving more safely. The benefits of eco-driving are indeed multiple. Climate protection is the first aim of eco-driving but the financial benefits can also become an important incentive for private as well as professional drivers. Public transport drivers and road hauliers for example have high interest in eco-driving. Even more so as eco-driving also improves professional drivers’ comfort and safety. 

In order to optimise eco-driving several research and deployment projects focus on developing ad-hoc technologies supporting eco-friendly driving behaviours by using Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) such as cooperative systems. The cooperative systems used in the projects include vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communications providing the driver with real-time interactive information from the road environment for example that he can take into account when adapting his driving behaviour. Let’s have a closer look at some of these EC funded projects to understand how they will to help us with becoming efficient eco-drivers.

Research and assessment: measuring impacts and defining methodologies 

To support ITS assisted eco-driving the first step was to assess its impact internationally and develop common measurements and methodologies. That’s exactly the focus of the ECOSTAND project.  The project started in December 2010 and involves three international regions (the European Union Japan and the United States) working together on a framework for a common assessment methodology to determine the impacts of Intelligent Transport Systems on energy efficiency and CO2 emissions. ITS assisted eco-driving is only one among other ITS solutions examined by the project but it is nevertheless an important one.

Building on the ECOSTAND project’s outcomes (providing guidelines on what standard methodology should contain) the Amitran project takes the assessment methodologies one step further by defining them for the European territory.. 

The methodologies developed by the Amitran project focus on the impact of Intelligent Transport Systems on CO2 emissions for both freight and passenger transport. The means of transport examined in the project range from road to rail and includes sea and inland navigation shipping.  So of course eco-driving here again is not the only focus of the project as it examines a whole chain of effects in multimodal transport but with a specific view on user behaviour.  However an eco-driving style is indeed at heart of AMITRAN’s methodology development ambitions.  

Research and deployment: new technologies supporting eco-driving

You may be wondering: “What do these new technologies supporting eco-driving concretely do and what does a vehicle equipped with them look like?. Well to find out one can head to Helmond in the Netherlands. This medium sized city close to Eindhoven is actually equipped with state of the art cooperative systems as it hosted the now completed FREILOT pilot project which focussed on reducing energy consumption of goods delivery vehicles in urban areas. Today the cooperative systems already present in Helmond are being continually developed and the city provides a perfect setting for eCoMove project testing and validation (finalised March 2013). 

eCoMove is an ambitious integrated project testing and validating cooperative mobility systems and services for energy efficiency in various contexts and for various users. Last month we had the chance to travel in one of the eCoMove test cars for a live eco-driving demonstration in Helmond. Although from the outside the car seemed quite normal the equipment inside the vehicle was intriguing.  Several screens and devices provided dynamic green driving and routing guidance as well as tips to tune the vehicle’s functions for minimum fuel usage. By following the virtual coaches’ “ecoSmartDriving” advice we actually managed to circulate the city in a perfect flow of green lights!  Once at our destination the “ecoPostTrip” application also provided an analysis of our eco-driving performance with personalised recommendations.

eCoMove is not only targeting individual drivers but by creating integrated solutions eCoMove also focuses on helping professional drivers and fleet managers. Freight and road operators driving trucks for example are provided with solutions to optimise their routing to save fuel and to manage traffic more efficiently. The applications developed are sending them information on the current road context and they can also benefit from eco-driving training in order to adapt their driving habits and use the cooperative technologies to their full potential. 

Optimising and demonstrating the ITS supported eco-driving technologies

One of the most effective eco-driving feed-back tools used in the eCoMove test car seen in Helmond was without a doubt the haptic pedal sending non verbal information involving touch. Optimising technology supported eco-driving definitely means exploring the best ways to communicate the driving advice to the drivers. 

Looking at other aspects the aim of the ecoDriver project is to deliver the most effective feedback to drivers on green driving by optimising the driver-powertrain-environment feedback loop. It is easy to imagine the poor results in eco-driving performances obtained in a non user-friendly feed-back environment. Being overwhelmed with visual messages would clearly put off any driver from paying attention to the eco-driving advice messages. In order to address this issue the ecoDriver research project focuses on optimising the feedback provided to drivers to increase both the acceptance and the effectiveness of green driving support for all types of powertrains including hybrid and electric vehicles. One of the strengths of the ecoDriver project is its ambition to take into account all scenarios (traffic conditions type of vehicle etc.) and individual driving styles to adapt the human-machine interfaces (HMI).

While upgraded HMI eco-driving solutions are being developed pilot projects such as COSMO are already using the existing technologies in various real-life contexts. COSMO’s aim is to demonstrate in realistic conditions the benefits of integrating advanced cooperative traffic management services and to quantify their impact in improving energy efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint. Experiments are carried out in various areas including eco-driving for private vehicles as well as public transport vehicles.

Among the three COSMO pilot sites two are using eco-driving technologies in urban contexts. In Gothenburg Sweden bus drivers can follow indications given by their onboard display to get green lights and avoid queues while in Salerno Italy it is individual drivers who are using the eco-driving technologies. In both cases the impacts on travel times traffic flow and emissions as well as on user acceptance are all measured and recorded to illustrate efficiency and raise awareness. On 15 and 16 May 2013 all results and outcomes of the project will be presented on the occasion of COSMO’s final event in Salerno. In addition to being highly valuable to future research and deployment these results also constitute excellent business cases for the automotive industry stakeholders. 

Becoming an eco-driver: training and incentive

As individuals we could all start trying to apply the eco-driving principles and golden rules but to achieve significant and sustainable changes in driving behaviours nothing replaces proper training; even more so when it comes to driving in a professional context where other goals such as rapidity and efficiency need to be fulfilled. 

Responding to the specific needs of road transport professionals the ECOeffect project offers a high-quality eco-driving programme combining the latest technology advanced training techniques and safety behaviours for the road transport sector. The programme consists of theoretical as well as practical training and is accessible to both professional drivers and driving instructors. The benefits of the programme for transport companies are clear and concrete: saving fuel time and money but also strengthening one’s market position by boasting a greener corporate image. The ECOeffect Training System (EETS) enables trainers to individually measure improve and rate the driving skills of each professional driver a critical point in the long run.

In order to maintain the benefits of eco-driver training – incentives and follow-ups are crucial. In this regard the eCoMove project carried out an empirical study with professional drivers to investigate motivators and barriers to the use of eco-assisted systems and to changing driving behaviours. We know the financial savings guaranteed by applying eco-driving in the road transport sector are a crucial incentive but the eCoMove study demonstrates that money alone will not keep drivers involved in the long run. Without monitoring and regular feed-back from their employers drivers seem to lose the benefits from training. However involvement empowerment and regular feed-back from management on good eco-driving performances will help achieve more sustainable results.

The psychological dimension of eco-driving practice is undeniable and has a direct effect on the penetration rate of greener driving. Even the best cooperative approach becomes worthless without user acceptance. Jean-Charles Pandazis Head of the EcoMobility Sector at ERTICO – ITS Europe explains: “eco-driving has become an important focus in the ITS projects and technologies but the human factor remains the key aspect”

For the Italian students involved in the COSMO project for example using the car park and taking a shuttle bus suggested by the COSMO smart phone application results in a free coffee in the university bar! Incentives should indeed be varied and individualised according to the target group. So what would it take for you to change your driving habits and become a perfect eco-driver in the long-run?

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Original Publication Date: Tue 23 Apr 2013