A global alliance of car manufacturers is testing new vehicle-to-infrastructure technology to reduce pedestrian fatalities.
Las Vegas: If you are trying to cross a main road or wanting to catch the bus in time you find yourself in trouble. So-called right of way streets in front of you have six to eight lanes of traffic, meaning they are 24 to 36 metres wide, and only every half mile or 800 metres there is a safe spot to cross. No wonder that plenty of people just make a run for it and risk getting hit.
Traffic statistics illustrate how dangerous the situation is. The state of Nevada, where the world’s major gambling mecca Las Vegas is located in the south, ranked among the ten U.S. states with the highest number of pedestrian deaths in 2015, coming in at 2.25 fatalities per 100,000. What’s worse, the state saw a five percent jump in vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in 2016, to a total of 213. Approximately half of those deaths occurred mid-block, not within marked pedestrian crossings. During the first half of last year alone, one pedestrian a week died on Nevada roads. Make one think twice to jaywalk.
Since roughly two out of three Nevada residents live in and around Las Vegas, the statistics are worrisome beyond the hordes of tourists crowding the famous Strip. “Safety is our number one priority, and we spend a lot of time and money on improvements and upgrades. But people simply take the shortest path,” says city traffic engineer Joanna Wadsworth.
We’re very technology-forward and want to use vehicle-to-infrastructure technology to bring down fatalities.
That’s why Las Vegas is experimenting with connected cars to up its data game and better warn drivers. It has partnered with GENIVI, an open-source alliance of more than 140 international car manufacturers and suppliers including Daimler, to launch an ambitious pilot to explore how a city can connect cars in real-time to their urban surroundings. “We’re very technology-forward and want to use vehicle-to-infrastructure technology to bring down fatalities,” says Wadsworth.
An initial fleet of 20 city-owned vehicles has been retrofitted with on-board units made with inexpensive, off-the-shelf components. They constantly talk to a back end server to create situational awareness for drivers around crossroads, zebra crossings or bus stops. By the end of the year, GENIVI wants to have 100 vehicles roaming the streets of Las Vegas, gathering data and building a strong case why cities need to tap into these data streams, and why car manufacturers should integrate such pedestrian warning systems into their next-generation head units.
When data meets data
The pilot is focused on four key safety scenarios, explains GENIVI executive director Steve Crumb. “We want to combine different data sources to make drivers better aware of speed limits, give them a warning as they approach a high-risk pedestrian area or a bus stop, and alert them to a traffic jam.”
Down the road, the non-profit software alliance wants to demonstrate to city, regional and other public officials that they’re sitting on a treasure trove of information they have so far not properly combined and used. And it hopes to establish a new open standard dubbed RVI, short for Remote Vehicle Interaction, that any OEM or Tier 1 supplier can freely use to build safety applications directly into future infotainment systems.
“The head unit used to display information from the car. But now it’s increasingly becoming an interface to the outside world — receiving data from public transit, from traffic signals or even communicating with my smart home,” explains Crumb as city engineer Wadsworth steers one of the pilot vehicles down one of those ultra-wide, busy Las Vegas streets. Pedestrians hide in the shade of a bus shelter to beat the 40-degree heat or quickly dash across the blacktop, not always looking left and right beforehand.
The head unit is becoming an interface to the outside world — receiving data from public transit, from traffic signals or even communicating with my smart home.
Just as the car approaches the crossroad of West Charleston Boulevard and Maryland Parkway south of downtown, an icon pops up on the little screen mounted on the dashboard: “Caution. High pedestrian area.” Wadsworth slows down, and the icon fades away as soon as the car has passed the crowded eight-lane crossroad. A bit further down the block, a white circle with a bus icon appears on the screen, warning of an upcoming public transit stop.
The seemingly effortless display of hyperlocal information requires a lot of work on the back end. Every second, the small on-board unit transmits the car’s location and speed via mobile network to a city-run server loaded with GENIVI’s RVI software. It’s combined with and checked against other data sources such as posted speed limits, known bus stops, and real-time bus locations provided by the regional transportation commission RTC. A second big data system by Hortonworks then pushes relevant warnings back down to each individual vehicle, archiving all data sets for later analysis by traffic planners, other city departments or academic partners.
Once they see what types of data are out there, cities can improve traffic monitoring and urban planning.
Besides coming up with a minimalist user interface whose icons and sounds don’t add to the informational overload of a modern car, the pilot is supposed to shine a light on the fundamental problem most municipalities face, explains Crumb. “They don't know what they don’t know. Once they see what types of data are out there, cities can improve traffic monitoring and urban planning.” He also expects that the pilot will yield important insights for GENIVI’s member companies. “We want to develop an open standard. Then it’s up to every OEM how they want to incorporate it.”
Crumb sees a clear advantage in embedding V2X technology in future head units over using a smartphone app. “There’s great value in car data that a smartphone can’t access, and the consistency of sensors in a car is much better.”
New tools for improving safety
While the pilot’s size of just 100 vehicles out of a city fleet of more than 1,400 might seem small, local experts think it will yield enough valuable data. “The real value lies in showing city, regional and state planners how you can combine data sources to come up with new tools for improving traffic flow and safety,” says Dan Langford.
The Australian expat runs Nevada’s Center for Advanced Mobility (NCAM), which has launched several connected vehicle pilots. “Perhaps we’ll learn that speed limits need to be adjusted, perhaps we‘ll learn that people take a turn too fast and need to make a design change, or that the timing of a traffic signal is an issue,” explains Langford.
The minds behind the test are already working on piping in additional data types. The real-time location of emergency vehicles is one, so a driver will be automatically alerted when an ambulance approaches. Another is a warning system for nearby bicycles and motorbikes built by Massachusetts-based start-up Ridar Systems, and finally the idea to capture live video through a dash cam.
The minds behind the test are already working on piping in additional data types
The latter would dramatically increase the data flow but could add valuable insights into road conditions. It’s an idea that Nevada is already exploring with Israeli start-up Nexar that wants to instrument thousands of school buses, public-work trucks and cars, as well as taxi services with its smartphone camera app. The state’s declared goal is to collect anonymized data on 250 million miles a month by 2020.
GENIVI will have something tangible to show long before then. Its Las Vegas pilot runs until the end of the year, with results and a first prototype expected to be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show CES in early January 2018.
GENIVI is a non-profit automotive industry alliance committed to “driving the broad adoption of open-source, in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) software and providing open technology for the connected car.” It has more than 140 members, including Daimler AG, and has so far deployed more than two dozen products worldwide. More at
What most of the 43 million annual visitors to “Sin City” Las Vegas might not know is that they’re enjoying themselves far from the historic heart of the city. Downtown Las Vegas is located several kilometres north of the entertainment mecca along the so-called “Strip,” or Las Vegas Boulevard. The downtown corridor has been designated as an innovation district where Nevada and the city have built or are currently running several vehicle-to-infrastructure pilots, ranging from autonomous shuttle buses to connected street lights and traffic signals.