What's the next traffic light telling your car?

September 26, 2013 // By Lars Reger, NXP Semiconductor
Next-generation vehicle communication technology promises to prevent accidents, save lives, improve traffic flow and reduce CO2 emissions. It's a big ask for any technology. Can car-to-X communication really deliver?

If there's anything trending right now in the automotive industry, it's the “connected car”. Electronics are making it possible. Over the last decade, electronics have transformed automotive engineering. 90% of all automotive innovations are enabled by electronics, and electronics expertise is now poised to make the “Internet of Things” a reality for the automotive industry – by turning cars from a simple means of transport into mobile end devices connected with and interacting with their environment. The potential payoff: a safer and more enjoyable driving experience, and improved traffic flow.

Crowdsourcing on the roads

Innovative car-to-X technology creates a crowdsourcing-type network for traffic intelligence. In this respect, car-to-X contrasts with the centralized Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) which are already in use: these deploy cellular networks and on-board units to collect information about accidents or roadworks to a central point of control and re-distribute the information to drivers. In a car-to-X scenario, the cars are active players. Instead of passively receiving data, they become active sources of near-instant information for other vehicles. If each car can transmit its current position and speed, other vehicles on the road can build a dynamic model of their environment, with data processed by the in-vehicle navigation system to enable the car to respond appropriately to events on the road. Vehicles can give each other warnings about potential hazards or congestion, and even automatically respond to changing driving conditions faster than typical human reaction times.

Cars can also receive and in some cases send data from and to traffic infrastructure. An emergency vehicle, for example, can switch traffic lights ahead to green and stop other traffic; or a traffic light could notify an approaching car how long it will stay on green – meaning the driver will not need to step on the gas to get through before the light changes. This has the potential to enhance traffic flow efficiency, save fuel, and cut CO2 emissions.

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