Intelligent connected and autonomous vehicles are, perhaps, the most immediately attractive element of the smart mobility evolution, but they won’t solve anything in isolation without equally intelligent road infrastructure in place to support the advanced technology. Intertraffic spoke to three infrastructure experts and asked them for their views on the current state of play and what is exciting them on a daily basis.
José F. Papí is CEO & founder of Etelätär Innovation and is the current President of the Smart Transportation Alliance (STA), and in both roles he has a keen eye on, and vested interest in, innovative intelligent road infrastructure developments. An economist and technologist at heart, Papí is also a realist who believes that the importance of “bricks and mortar” of intelligent mobility solutions should not be underestimated.
“Today, vehicle automation and connectivity are two of the most attractive and innovative topics in the mobility research field,” he confirms. “Researchers, authorities, industrial icons and the press repeatedly present us with a vision in which Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) have connected functions, by automatically sharing data with other vehicles, for instance through integrated navigation systems, and/or count on driver-autonomous functions, so certain commands are executed by the vehicle itself and without the intervention of a human driver. We are also consequently presented with the notion that this new generation of vehicles promises to bring forward wonders in terms of traffic congestion, safety performance and overall efficiency of the road mobility system.
We are also consequently presented with the notion that this new generation of vehicles promises to bring forward wonders in terms of traffic congestion, safety performance and overall efficiency of the road mobility system.
“But,” he continues, “at the risk of not being in sync with the above trend, I believe that no connected and/or automated mobility is possible without an underlying adapted ‘bricks’ infrastructure and that significant adaptation investments must be made in the latter to form a solid foundation for realistic CAVs roll-out.”
THERE MAY BE TROUBLE AHEAD
Papí has first-hand experience of the potential for CAVs to completely revolutionise our concept of traffic, but he is also keen to stress that the road ahead, as it were, is not as obstacle-free as it might be.
“Our company’s ongoing research activities into CAVs and mixed traffic have clearly shown us that in the long term CAVs allow for a high level of adaptability, for example in the form of intelligent occupancy measures for road infrastructure, real-time management, segregated bus lanes, adaptation to vulnerable user requirements, autonomous buses or parking deterrents. Thanks to recent technological innovations, such as remote sensing, advanced analytics, automated operations, crowdsourcing and integrated scheduling and control, road infrastructure can now be used more effectively, and operated and maintained more efficiently. In short, deploying an integrated transportation ‘info-structure’ relying on V2I [vehicle to infrastructure], I2V [infrastructure to vehicle], V2V [vehicle to vehicle] and I2I [infrastructure to infrastructure] communications can strongly contribute to more robust and efficient road traffic,” he enthuses.
“However,” he warns, “and at the risk of repeating myself, a high degree of vehicle connectivity and automation is not possible without an accompanying connected road infrastructure. In my opinion, overlooking this is overestimating the potential of automation algorithms to properly react to all possible open-traffic parameters and opens the door for serious legal and safety consequences. The adaptation of today’s under-maintained road networks to a ‘connected infrastructure’ would cost European governments trillions of Euros.”
Charging into the near future
For consultant Shamala Evans-Gadgil, a Senior Programme/Project Manager working on behalf of Coventry City Council’s Transport, Infrastructure and Innovation department, intelligent road infrastructure means electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Coventry, located in the UK’s East Midlands, is considered as an EV pioneer city, with ambitious electric public transport targets coming sharply into focus on the horizon.
“I am interested in the classification of all vehicles,” she explains by way of an introduction. “That means everything up to giant construction vehicles and things like that. However, my focus is not on the actual electric powertrain and the vehicle itself, it's on the supporting infrastructure that is required to make sure that they remain operational. I'm really interested to see the various types of charging infrastructure but we are realising as we are progressing and working within this field that one solution doesn't fit all.
Evans-Gadgil is halfway into a PhD where her focus is, unsurprisingly, EV charging.
“I represent the city of Coventry and I have been involved in leading the rollout of EV charging infrastructure, where we have taken advantage of the UK government's funding. What is happening in Coventry doesn’t mean that you pick that model up lock, stock and barrel and take it to rural Essex, for example, because it is all dependent on human behaviour. So, when in the rural areas the distances people travel are quite long, whereas if you're in an urban area in a compact city like Coventry a vehicle that has a 50 kilowatt battery size is more than sufficient. In rural areas you are more likely to experience range anxiety and then also finding that the chargers don't work or that the infrastructure is not there as yet.”
Evans-Gadgil is exploring the various formats of charging infrastructure to ensure that in her forward-thinking city, at least, all bases are covered.
“I am not just looking at plug-in charging availability, I am looking at static wireless charging and dynamic charging on the move. Coventry is going to become an all-electric bus city by so we need to consider what range the electric buses can cover in their duty cycles, what charging infrastructure is needed for them, what supplies required and have we even got that power supply?
“Even if we are providing that kind of power supply,” she muses, “what do we do during the daytime when the buses are not using that those chargers? So should we then make it available to other fleets? Installing a citywide EV charging infrastructure is not straightforward and none of these businesses have ever dipped their toes into this environment before. ‘Oh, but we don't work like that’ they say. Every time I think we've solved something, another issue comes up.”
I am looking at static wireless charging and dynamic charging on the move. Coventry is going to become an all-electric bus city by so we need to consider what range the electric buses can cover in their duty cycles Councillor Jim O’Boyle, Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change, backs up Evans-Gadgil’s theories.
Councillor Jim O’Boyle, Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change, backs up Evans-Gadgil’s theories.
“Making sure that we prepare for the future of transport by having electric charge points readily available is vital and Coventry is leading the way. We’re the city with the highest number of EV charge points outside of London because we know what a big impact electric vehicles will have in reducing pollution and improving air quality. We’re investing to electrify our transport network by using Very Light Rail, creating dedicated cycleways and are hoping to electrify our entire bus fleet by 2025.
He continues: “We also have plans for a Gigafactory which will help the city transition into sustainable energy through electric vehicles by creating and supplying lithium-ion batteries. The factory can create enough batteries to power 600,000 electric vehicles a year. Coventry truly is leading the way for a greener, more sustainable, future.” Another EV-related issue that Evans-Gadgil is keen to explore is the burgeoning second- and third-hand electric vehicle market and the potential effects on the road infrastructure.
EV cost parity has to happen so, from a charging infrastructure perspective, it is not just having chargers on the street or in car parks, it needs other solutions and other options.
“Cost parity has to happen so, from a charging infrastructure perspective, it is not just having chargers on the street or in car parks, it needs other solutions and other options. For example, if you've got off-street parking you can register as an EV charging host so when somebody who hasn't got a driveway or a garage to charge their EV they can see on the app who and where the hosts are and charge their vehicle using your facility. This will help to increase the second- and third-hand EV market,” she explains.
“We are resilient species, she concludes. “One of the things I am a very firm believer in is that if there are challenges you need to voice them because otherwise innovation cannot take place. There is a sector of people who will do nothing but tell us what the challenges are and there are other sets of people that will look at those challenges and go and do something about it. With electric vehicle charging infrastructure I have solutions to those challenges.”
A CERTIFIED SUCCESS
A specialist in V2I (Vehicle-to-Infrastructure) systems, Professor José Manuel Menéndez from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid’s Higher Technical School of Telecommunication Engineers’ Visual Telecommunications Application Group has been part of a consortium that were tasked with implementing the results of an intelligent road infrastructure project in Spain. It’s fair to say that results were ‘mixed’ but Prof Menéndez has identified one area of the topic that has, until now, not been sufficiently addressed. Over the last five years, Intertraffic enquired, what does he believe to have been the most important and biggest innovations in V2I?
“This is not an easy question to answer,” he admits immediately. “Because we were not very successful, here in Spain, in trying to create a consortium trying to deal with the issue of how cars are moving towards electrification and also to automation. You don’t need to look too far to find cars that are able to drive independently - to some extent this is quite easy, especially on open roads and highways, but when you get into the city, the environment is so much more complex that the autonomous car is not that simple to implement.”
Intelligent vehicles have been talked about for a number of decades but Prof Menéndez’s thoughts are turned to, and tuned to, the intelligence of the vehicle’s surroundings.
“The intelligent car is aware of what is happening around it. A Tesla, for example, is able to detect other vehicles and pedestrians but the situation where you have many participants, such as traffic lights and bicycles makes the environment so much more complex that part of the sensing capability has to be in the infrastructure and part of the intelligence has also to be embedded in the infrastructure.
Part of the sensing capability has to be in the infrastructure and part of the intelligence has also to be embedded in the infrastructure.
“The idea was to launch a project in which we could, to some extent, apply some kind of a certification to the infrastructure about the level of sensing and the level of intelligence and that the infrastructure has to provide some help to the vehicle to increase its automatic driving capabilities. We have tried to run these projects a couple of times but we couldn't find the proper tender in which we could source the really big amount of money that is needed.”
What would a certification of infrastructure intelligence consist of, according to Menéndez?
“This is not just a case of providing intelligence to the vehicle, but also providing intelligence to the infrastructure’s communication capabilities to increase the autonomous driving capabilities of the car,” he explains. “As long as the infrastructure is able to provide higher levels of sensing and communication, they will be more capable of doing things on their own. This is something interesting because that implies that the infrastructure has not only to be deployed, but has also to be certified.” As a reader it’s quite likely that at this stage you can imagine the cogs in Prof Menéndez’s brain turning at some speed.
“For me the intelligence and sensing capabilities that the infrastructure has is very much connected to the Internet of Things issue. And it is also very connected to the intelligent environment in which we are more deeply involved every day. Artificial intelligence seems to be everywhere, applying machine learning and deep learning techniques, so to answer the original question, this is the most innovative thing that I have been involved in the last few years.”
For me the intelligence and sensing capabilities that the infrastructure has is very much connected to the Internet of Things issue.
Another question, however, is how far ahead can we afford to look without taking our metaphorical eyes off the metaphorical road? And what does that future look like?
“I guess,” counters Menéndez, “that this is not a short-term issue. It’s a medium- or long-term issue because the amount of infrastructure needed would take many, many years. This is something that requires, on one hand, some kind of self-consciousness from the people in charge of funding this type of innovation project. It is something that also has to be in the mind of the European Commission, because probably this is so big, it requires an amount of investment similar to the one that the European Commission devoted to V2X 10 years or so ago.”
So certification is something that requires a lot of effort, combined with a lot of support from public and private stakeholders.
“Working with car manufacturers is a really different entity as, I am sure the Intertraffic community will know, they like to control and close all the environments, so they will not make this thing easy. Eventually, though, they will have to realise that they require that help. Today, they are trying to do everything on their own. We have been speaking about this level of communication for what seems like 10-12 years,” Menéndez adds, somewhat wearily.
“Now manufacturers can transmit information from your car to their premises without making us aware of it, but we know that because from time to time, we will receive a message saying that we need to take our car to the recommended repair shop which implies that the car is communicating that somewhere. So they are trying to close the environment. But at the end of the day if we want this complete, SAE Level 5 self-driving capability we will have to introduce infrastructure certification.”
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