In 20 years, an estimated two billion passenger vehicles will roam Earth's roadways. And by 2050, it's predicted that China will have as many cars as all of those used globally today.
So how will policy makers address the burgeoning congestion and environmental impact of passenger transport? And how, as Angel Gurria, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development secretary-general, implored at the International Transport Forum (ITF) summit in Leipzig, Germany, last month, will we cap carbon emissions to stay within two degrees of climate warming, which scientists around the world have repeatedly warned we must do?
Industry and government are looking for solutions in information and communications technology. More intelligent driving systems, experts say, can help reduce congestion and consequent emissions.
According to INRIX, the leading global provider of traffic information in 40 countries, the 6.4 million kilometres of road and 100 million vehicles already providing data globally can be used by traffic information centres to optimize flow in and out of their networks.
To obtain a global view of traffic, INRIX aggregates data from consumer and commercial vehicles, cellular carriers and cell tower messages, and hundreds of other data sources.
If you drive a late-model BMW, Ford, Nissan, Audi, Lexus, or Toyota, the information you see in the head unit is coming from INRIX, and you're anonymously providing data back. If you use a mobile device or application, chances are you're also part of the global network providing data.
"The information could be broadcast into millions of vehicles and devices so people can make better decisions based upon that data, and freight companies could optimize their schedules and deliveries based on real time and predictive data – knowing what traffic will look like in not just one hour, but even one week," said Bryan Mistele, INRIX President and CEO, addressing a ministerial panel at the ITF summit.
An estimated eight billion litres of fuel are wasted worldwide each year as a result of congestion, and 25 billion life hours are spent stuck in traffic. Mistele insists data can be used by the private and public sectors to optimize traffic networks.
"If you have global traffic information in a consistent format and collected in a consistent way, you can start to compare cities and countries, and make real data driving decisions and trade-offs around mass transit, versus expanding capacity, redesigned lanes, traffic signal timing, and understand the cost benefit of those types of investments."
"Studies have shown that by giving people access to traffic data – whether in their car, on mobile devices, or signs that go across the road you can decrease traffic congestion by 10 per cent in the average city, if you can have a good penetration of people that have access to that data," said Mistele.
Perhaps the most innovative example of the use of INRIX data is the multi-modal information available in BMW's new iSeries vehicles, which allows motorists not only to determine the quickest driving route from point to point, but also to determine if it's quicker to take a train or bus.
And then there's the "platooning" concept, which receives investment from Volvo.
Platooning involves connecting vehicles electronically, so they can travel in succession as they communicate wirelessly with each other, and are manually steered by a professionally trained driver in a leading truck. The aim is to make traffic safer and reduce fuel consumption. An added bonus is improved traffic flow, as road capacity increases when vehicles are driven closer together. Uniform speeds help, too.
"If you look at a lot of the queuing and traffic jams it's actually about differentiation in speed. We took that one step further and said, 'If we can do it trucks by trucks, why can't we do it truck by car?' – and thereby created in congested areas basically electronic trains – platoons – where you connect up your car behind a truck," said Olof Persson, president of AB Volvo and CEO of the Volvo Group at an ITF summit panel on adapting vehicles to a new society.
"You are running much more efficiently and in a much more constant speed."
An explanatory video makes entering and exiting the platoon seem simple – you drive up, push a button, a signal is sent to the lead truck, the truck accepts and connects your car and then you follow. When in the platoon, the car drives itself.
Volvo predicts that platooning technology will be ready for commercialization in five years.
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