Today’s cars are just brimming with technology, but communicating with other four wheelers and other road users, we still do with indicators, hooter and brake lights. But all that’s going to change in the future. Cars will communicate with each other and with their environment, and that will be a major step forward for safety, traffic flow and vehicle efficiency…

Just about the entire vehicle industry is working diligently towards autonomous cars. Many of those run up technologies can already be seen in today’s cars in the form of active safety systems, like lane keeping systems, radar-controlled cruise control, automatic emergency braking systems, and such. Nifty technology, but those are only a few puzzle pieces in the bigger picture towards self-propelled cars. One of the major missing pieces is technology that allows cars to communicate with their environment. In the jargon, this technology is called V2X (Vehicle to Everything). It is a collective name for all kinds of communication technology such as V2V (Vehicle to Vehicle), V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure), V2D (Vehicle to Device, such as smartphones), V2P (Vehicle to Pedestrian) and V2N (Vehicle to Network). After all, the autonomous car of the future will have to be aware of its surroundings and should also be able to respond appropriately. That is only possible if the communication is in place.

Looking ahead

The new connected technologies complement the existing sensors, and allows vehicles to ‘see’ further and to ‘communicate’ with other vehicles, the infrastructure, pedestrians and the network. For example, a driver can be warned when a vehicle which is still out of sight ahead, has braked, thus avoiding a possible accident. This system is also called a “connected horizon”. The connected vehicles are warned if they are approaching a danger zone, for example exiting a bend or behind a hill, and can slow down earlier. The system works both in manual and auto-driving, and will thus greatly benefit road safety, regardless of the level of autonomy. The same goes for traffic flow. Traffic congestion arises not only because roads have insufficient capacity, but mostly because drivers brake, to then accelerate again. That causes an accordion effect, resulting in traffic jams. Communicating vehicles will be able to adjust their speed mutually, thus ensuring a smoother traffic flow. This also has a positive effect on fuel consumption and emissions.

And maintenance is also heading for a revolution. The message by your on-board computer informing you of your imminent maintenance requirement will be replaced by a direct link with the constructor and/or dealer, and automatic maintenance appointments by the car are even possible. From now on, software updates can also happen online via 4G networks (and 5G in the future), just like real time diagnostics in case of breakdowns.

Smartphones as a workaround

The big tech companies like Google and Apple have already had an important share in the development of applications for the automotive industry. They also play an important role in the race to connectivity already, with applications such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Popular navigation apps like Waze (owned by Google) are in se peer-to-peer communication platforms that allow drivers to share traffic information. You can use Waze through Android Auto already, and Apple CarPlay will soon facilitate the link with Waze and other navigation apps.