Cars sometimes know more about their surroundings than their drivers. With the help of intelligent communication systems, vehicles themselves are able to contribute to improved road safety and mobility.
A patch of black ice on the next bend? A bank of fog three kilometres down the road? A new traffic tailback where roadworks are being carried out? What used to come as an unpleasant surprise is far less frightening if the approaching driver receives an up-to-date is warning beforehand. This is a task that will in future be carried out by the other vehicles on the roads at the time – automatically, by radio. This is the basic idea behind Interactive Vehicle Communication.
Cars are nowadays able to collect a great deal of information about the current driving situation, as the numerous sensors, cameras and control units for the dynamic and assistance systems can register e.g. poor weather conditions just as well as sudden braking and avoiding manoeuvres, or broken-down vehicles on the road. There are also other sources of information, for example local police reports. This information can be passed on via additional relay stations ("car-to-x") such as radio masts at the roadside, stationary nodal points (e.g. traffic centres and overhead gantries) or via the internet. The onboard computer classifies all the reports according to plausibility and relevance. Tailback reports on the radio which are out-of-date or irrelevant to the individual driver will then be a thing of the past.
Mercedes engineers have been working on "Interactive Vehicle Communication" as a technology of the future for more than seven years. The ESF 2009 safety concept vehicle demonstrates the current status of this research: this Mercedes can automatically recognise an approaching police car, for example, and warn its driver by showing a symbol in the display. It is also possible to send and receive warnings of bad weather or obstacles in the road.
The exchange of data between vehicles is via so-called "ad hoc" networks,
connections that are spontaneously formed between the vehicles over short distances. These wireless local area networks (WLANs) are self-organising, and require no external infrastructure. Transmission and reception is at a frequency of 5.9 gigahertz, over a distance of up to 500 metres. In fact the achievable communication range is much greater, as oncoming vehicles pass the messages on.
Cars that communicate with each other can do more than just pass on information: linked to modern proximity control systems such as DISTRONIC Plus from Mercedes-Benz, they can help to harmonise the traffic flow and avoid tailbacks by automatically selecting the most suitable vehicle speed when joining a motorway. And collisions can be avoided if onboard sensors recognise an impending accident and automatically regulate the distance.
This technology is currently demonstrating its practicality in the "Safe Intelligent Mobility – Test area Germany" project (simTD), in which Mercedes-Benz and other German manufacturers and suppliers are taking part. Up to 400 vehicles communicate with each other in these, the world's largest field trials for Interactive Vehicle Communication. simTD is being conducted in the densely populated Frankfurt/Rhine-Main area from autumn 2008 to 2012. Experts expect usable mobile information networks with full coverage to become a possibility when around ten percent of all vehicles have this communications capability.