Vernetzte Autos werden bald so alltäglich sein wie Smartphones
Internet of Things

Joyride into the future

Thanks to technical and legal advances, the connected car is gaining speed. There are however some hurdles to overcomebefore autonomous driving becomes a reality.
The automobile is on its way to the next level of development: autonomous driving. One of the most important requirements for this is connectivity – and that has now become unstoppable. Market research firm Gartner estimates that 12.4 million connected cars will be produced worldwide by the end of 2016 – representing almost one-seventh of all cars manufactured. This figure is projected to rise to 61 million by 2020.  
In Europe, April 2018 will mark a milestone for the connected car: From then on – according to a mandate by the European Parliament – every new car must be equipped with “eCall”. This emergency call system uses an installed eSIM card to automatically request assistance in the event of an accident.

Traffic light to car: “I am green.”

The connected car speaks not only to its manufacturer and suppliers, who provide services such as navigation and traffic information. It also communicates with other devices in the Internet of Things: with smartphones, the smart home, smart bicycles, with the traffic infrastructure and with other vehicles. In April 2016, for instance, a convoy of automated trucks connected by Wi-Fi drove to Rotterdam while traveling at a distance of just 15 meters from one another rather than the mandatory 50 meters. The benefit of this platooning: a diminished accident risk and ten percent lower fuel consumption due to reduced wind resistance.

Cars need to learn how to see ahead

Connected cars can’t be totally independent and safe if they need Wi-Fi to speak with vehicles and traffic lights in distances of just a few hundred meters or need sensors to capture information about their environment. Autonomous vehicles need to be able to see ahead, for instance, to detect the traffic jam around the next curve. That is what a mobile connection can do. “This would allow us to dramatically reduce the number of accidents”, believes Christian Wietfeld, Head of the Communication Networks Institute at TU Dortmund University.
The challenge: In order to react in split seconds, the vehicle needs to receive and process all available information in real-time. In this regard, LTE provides a good basis with latencies below 100 milliseconds. However, information about an instance of full-braking ahead needs to cover quite a distance: from the braking car to the next LTE tower, to the network for processing in a data center, and then all the way back to the fast-approaching car. Even if the transmission takes just half a second, a car driving 100 km/h travels 14 meters during this time.

Fog rather than a cloud

One solution for this is Mobile Edge Computing. With this concept, data is not processed in a distant cloud, but at a base station close to the vehicles. Continental, Deutsche Telekom, the Fraunhofer Institute for Embedded Systems and Communication Technologies (ESK) and Nokia Networks tested the technology on the A9 motorway between Munich and Nuremberg and reached latencies of less than 20 milliseconds. The 5G mobile standard could provide even shorter latencies beginning in 2020.

Hesitant interest

The technology necessary for the connected car is quickly evolving for autonomous vehicles. One hurdle are the drivers themselves: They remain unconvinced. Indeed, car buyers are increasingly willing to switch automobile manufacturers for connected services: according to a McKinsey study 60 percent in China, 33 percent in the U.S. and 20 percent in Germany. “Consumers are used to using their smartphones to manage certain aspects of their social lives”, says Detlev Mohr, senior partner at McKinsey and co-author of the study. “They also have this need when they are on the road.” (entire interview here)
However, numerous surveys regarding connected cars have indicated that drivers are concerned about the sharing of their information, driving safety in semi and fully automated vehicles and hacker attacks. These reservations have been reinforced by several accidents involving Tesla models driving on auto-pilot and a hacking incident with a Jeep Cherokee. So it is up to the automobile manufacturer to find answers for these skeptics. In Germany, for instance, the Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) and data protection authorities agreed on key aspects of data protection for connected cars in January 2016. The first initiatives and technologies regarding IT security for cars are already available – with great potential for much more (more on this in one of the upcoming articles).

Autonomous driving is prohibited

Lawmakers are also called on. Clear rules for the IT security of connected vehicles are still lacking, as is an answer to the question of who is at fault when self-driving cars have accidents. Autonomous driving needs to be permitted in the first place. In March 2016, a new passage for the EU-wide Vienna Convention on Road Traffic from 1968 took effect, which stated that driving assistance systems are no longer excluded. The Economic Commission for Europe still needs to determine specific provisions in the UN/ECE regulations.

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