The Way of the Future: Connected Vehicle Tech

May 16, 2018

For years most of us who have worked in the advanced transportation world have been enraptured by the terrific technology that has been churned out by the world’s innovative car, engine, bus and truck designers. We focused almost exclusively on what was under the hood or how energy was stored on board the vehicle.  After we recently gathered for the continent’s biggest and best attended alternative fuel and electric vehicle conference and trade show, we were reminded that advanced clean transportation is not only about what powers a vehicle, but is also defined by how a vehicle thinks.

This year’s Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo that wrapped up two weeks ago in Long Beach, CA, was defined, in part, by a huge presence of connected vehicle technologies.  What are “connected vehicles” and why are they important to improving the operational, economic and especially the environmental performance of transportation technology?

Simply put, connected vehicles are simultaneously connected to the cloud, to one another and to the world around them.  They are able to both receive and send information about their location, their operational status, and their condition, and make automatic and immediate adjustments to address the specific circumstances in which the vehicle finds itself without input or direction from the driver.  These vehicles are connected to one another, communicating about their direction, speed, and intent (do I plan on turning, slowing down, speeding up, taking that parking spot, etc.), enabling individual vehicles to anticipate the actions and behavior of all of the vehicles with which they share the road in microseconds.  Finally, they are connected to the world around them, “seeing” through vision and radar traffic signals, obstacles, road conditions and pedestrians, providing the capability to both navigate and avoid issues as they arise.

Connected vehicle technology delivers real and meaningful benefits to users today, including improved fuel economy, reduced emissions, enhanced safety, anticipated maintenance, and reduced costs.

For many, connected vehicle technology is leading to an inevitable conclusion – autonomous, self-driving vehicles.  We all can anticipate that this is a direction that many car companies and futurists believe we are headed.  But connected vehicles are more than just a precursor to the vehicles that we have been seeing in movies like “I, Robot” and “Minority Report”.  Connected vehicle technology delivers real and meaningful benefits to users today, including improved fuel economy, reduced emissions, enhanced safety, anticipated maintenance, and reduced costs.

The emergence of connected vehicles has been taking place gradually over many years.  Some of the first vestiges of the technology were brought on board the vehicle when cellular technology began its widespread adoption in the 1990s.  Vehicle navigation advanced connectivity significantly, particularly as both private and commercial vehicle owners began to demand navigational units that provided real-time traffic information.  Technologies like On Star also contributed to the advancement of connectivity, by providing customers with real time emergency detection and service, even when the driver was unable to initiate first communication.

There are a plethora of connected technologies that have emerged in recent years, serving as the leading edge of a wave hardware and software that deliver social and environmental value.  An alternative term that is often used as a synonym for connected vehicles is “telematics”.  Telematics refers to technology that merges telecommunications with two-way sharing of information, and usually refers to activities that will impact control or performance of a vehicle in the field.  There are numerous examples of connectivity in today’s advanced vehicle technology, many of which were on display at ACT Expo 2018:

  • Vehicle Tracking – Enables the owners of mobile assets to monitor their location, speed, condition, performance, and other pertinent data that helps them manage their business. Vehicle tracking typically integrates global positioning systems (GPS) with data sharing. Similar technologies exist for container and cargo tracking, which give freight owners and their transportation vendors extraordinary insight and control over the velocity of their goods.
  • Predictive and Adaptive Cruise Control – Two related forms of vehicle speed maintenance. Predictive technology assesses the road ahead of the vehicle and makes adjustments to throttle and brake controls in anticipation of the terrain, while adaptive cruise automatically adjusts a vehicle’s speed to ensure a safe distance from vehicles in the lane ahead.
  • Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC) Technology – Adds vehicle-to-vehicle communications to the adaptive cruise control capability. This connectivity allows trucks to operate more smoothly as a unit, reducing and controlling the gaps between vehicles.
  • Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) – Units that automatically monitor a driver’s activities to ensure that they are not working beyond federal safety requirements.
  • Lane Departure Warning Systems – Provide drivers with an important safety feature which provides audible and visual alerts if the vehicle is drifting outside of its lane.
  • Collision Avoidance and Mitigation Systems – Help to prevent or reduce the severity of a collision. This technology typically will employ image recognition, radar, and even lasers, integrated with GPS data which can detect fixed hazards to provide warning to drivers of a possible collision and, if a collision is unavoidable, to automatically brake or steer in a manner the system’s internal algorithms project will mitigate the impact of the crash.

Connected vehicle technology can assist with crash elimination, manage traffic flow, reduce the need for new infrastructure, and otherwise dramatically improve the safety and efficacy of passenger and cargo movement.

These and other technologies are combined to provide autonomous vehicle operations, during which the vehicle will drive itself with little to no driver input.  Vehicle automation is one of the hottest trends in the transportation industry.  Every vehicle manufacturer is currently working on developing product with varying degrees of autonomous operation capability, and several communities are grappling with the regulatory and legal challenges presented by driverless vehicles.

Taken together, connected vehicle technology can assist with crash elimination, manage traffic flow, reduce the need for new infrastructure, predict travel time, reduce driver tasks, predict with accuracy the flow of goods and their arrival time, improve fuel efficiency, optimize vehicle performance, reduce vehicle and driver wear, and otherwise dramatically improve the safety and efficacy of passenger and cargo movement.  Coupled with existing and emerging near zero and zero emission vehicle technology, the transportation sector finds itself on the verge of a dramatic and powerful shift, no less important or transformative than the introduction of the automobile itself.

It is clear that the connected vehicle technology landscape is growing quickly and is expected to continue to evolve for the foreseeable future. Connectivity and advanced vehicle technologies will surely be a large part of the 2019 ACT Expo, which is set to take place April 23-26 at the Long Beach Convention Center.