Technological advances are leading to much greater automation and connectivity in the field of transport. Innovations such as driverless vehicles, which would have been unimaginable until recently, are becoming increasingly viable with pilot projects in various stages of development across Europe. The major theme of the 2017 ITS European Congress is ‘ITS Beyond Borders’. Taking place in Strasbourg from 19–22 June, the congress will highlight the importance of developing intelligent transport solutions that are coherent and co-ordinated across the EU.

What is Connected and Automated Driving?

Connected and Automated Driving (CAD) is a term used to describe increased automation and connectivity between vehicles. But this description doesn’t really convey the vastness of the subject. CAD brings together automotive industries and digital technology providers as well as public and private entities. The applications of these developments are far-reaching. Advances in connectivity, including Internet of Things technologies and Living Labs, are allowing vehicles to communicate with each other as well as with road infrastructure. One practical result of this is that cars can use sensors to keep a safe distance between each other while maintaining a constant speed, thus improving safety and vehicle efficiency. More importantly CAD helps reduce human error which is by far the biggest cause of accidents in the transport world.

Similarly, automation is revolutionising people’s driving experiences. Automation can be as simple as assisted braking and cruise control or as complicated as limited self-driving capabilities. The pinnacle of this technology is driverless vehicles. On-board sensors are used to understand the vehicle’s global position and local environment, which allows them to operate with little or no human input. At the moment, there are no driverless private cars ready for the market. But, driverless shuttles are at a much more advanced stage of development, as will be demonstrated at the ITS European Congress in Strasbourg.

Cross-border digital highways

International co-operation is one of the major themes at the ITS European Congress and this year delegates will be able to find out more about a fantastic local example. In February 2017 Germany’s Minister for Transport, Alexander Dobrindt and France’s Secretary of State for Transport, Alain Vidalies announced plans to build a cross-border digital highway between the two countries. This will be used for testing Connected and Automated Driving. The highway will be built between the cities of Metz and Merzig across a distance of 70km.

Speaking about the announcement Mr Dobrint said ‘Automated and networked driving systems must not be restricted to states – they must function everywhere.’ While there have been similar digital highways tested in Germany this will be the first instance of automated vehicles being tested in real traffic across borders.

In 2015, Germany set up the world’s first ‘digital highway test field’ on the A9 Autobahn between Munich and Nuremberg. This generated a very positive response, with 50 companies vying to test their projects on the route. The highway was outfitted with various digital systems aimed at reducing hazards and improving the flow of traffic. This included a system of radar sensors placed at regular intervals which operate as a car-to-infrastructure system of communication. In the future, systems such as these may be able to issue safety warnings in real time about issues such as erratic drivers and animals on the road.

As well as building on the success of previous digital highways, the cross-border route between France and Germany also offers the unique opportunity to see how vehicle-to-vehicle communication works when cars cross national borders and transition between national telecom networks. In the future, these kinds of initiatives will be adopted in other regions and by other Member States.

Cross-Rhine Driverless Shuttle Challenge

Connected and Automated Driving will be one of the major topics at the 2017 ITS European Congress in Strasbourg. There will be a range of sessions and demonstrations on CAD, and one of the major events will be the Cross-Rhine Driverless Shuttle Challenge.

Driverless shuttles are automated vehicles which run on electric propulsion and carry between eight and 20 passengers. They are a promising emerging technology and in the last three years they have got closer to being ready for the open market. Trial runs have already taken in place across France, in Paris and Lyon.

The challenge will take place between 19–22 June, during the congress. The driverless shuttles will navigate a 2km route around Strasbourg and the adjoining German city of Kehl. This involves crossing the Strasbourg-Kehl Tramway bridge and negotiating other difficult city centre environments. Unlike digital highways, traversing a city centre can be risky business, with variables such as pedestrians and cyclists to be considered.

One of the main goals of the challenge is to raise awareness of connected and automated transport amongst the public. Louis Fernique, Head of the ITS Task Force in the French Ministry said ‘The idea of the challenge was to show the general public and the media the potential of the concept. Compared with prototypes of autonomous private cars, shuttles are much more mature and developed because the concept and technologies are more straightforward. Shuttles can learn the path that they will circulate.’

The challenge is also part of the joint initiative between the French and German transport ministries. Designers and manufacturers of driverless shuttles were invited to demonstrate the capability of their creations, and French company NAVYA will be showcasing its model this year. Discussions are underway to make the challenge an annual event. ‘We are now discussing with our partners the possibility of renewing this challenge every year’ said Mr Fernique. ‘Each year we would increase the challenge degree by degree to follow the progress of the concept and prototypes from year to year.’

ERTICO: supporting the deployment of automated vehicles in Europe

Connectivity and automation go hand in hand and will radically change the world of transport for the better. ERTICO ITS Europe have been involved in a number of projects to promote Connected and Automated Driving across Europe ensuring that this new technology benefits everyone. One of the main projects is CARTRE (Coordination of Automated Road Transport Deployment for Europe).

CARTRE, which launched in Autumn 2016, is supported by the European Commission and works with over 60 organisations to advocate for Connected and Automated Driving. Its primary objective is to establish European leadership through public and private collaboration for the development and deployment of automated road transport. CARTRE follows on from a previous initiative called Vehicle and Road Automation (VRA). One of its lasting legacies is the VRA wiki, which aims to document all of the various national and international automated transport projects.

On 3–4 April 2017, CARTRE together with another EU funded support action, SCOUT, hosted the first European Conference on Connected and Automated Driving, in Brussels, Belgium. The event provided an opportunity for all of the major stakeholders to get together and discuss how to advance the deployment of automated road transport across Europe.

Another ongoing project is the aptly named AUTOPILOT. Standing for AUTOmated driving Progressed by Internet Of Things, this project aims to enable safer automated driving by utilising connected objects and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Launched in Januray 2017, AUTOPILOT brings together 43 different partners who represent information technology organisations and automotive industry stakeholders.

IoT enabled automated vehicles will be deployed across Europe as part of the project. France, Finland, Spain and the Netherlands will all have large scale pilot sites which will be used to test IoT enabled autonomous cars. This will allow test data to be gathered from real-life conditions which will show the impact of IoT technology on safety, people and more. AUTOPILOT will also work to develop new services as well, such as autonomous car sharing, automated parking and enhanced digital dynamic maps which will allow for a fully automated driving experience.

Looking ahead

These examples are a mere taste of the world of CAD and what visitors to the 2017 ITS European Congress can expect to learn. As the technology advances, connectivity and automation will become even further entwined as more innovations are made. More and more organisations are looking to get involved with CAD as it starts to replace old transport models. To getter a better understanding of the world of Connected and Automated Driving, register today for the ITS European Congress 2017 in Strasbourg and see how you can get involved.