Connectivity and 5G will provide a new layer of safety as the industry looks to support drivers today and autonomous vehicles tomorrow. By Freddie Holmes
Once just a broad vision to improve situational awareness for drivers, cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) is now nearing commercialisation. This was one key takeaway from Mobile World Congress (MWC), a conference that focuses on how new connections can be made using technology. At MWC 2022, attentions turned toward technology that can connect vehicles with the outside world.
Based in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a built-up area on the outskirts of Barcelona, MWC is in an ideal location to showcase how technology can make roads safer not only for other drivers, but also vulnerable road users. Pavements here are populated by pedestrians, bicycles and e-scooters, often zipping across intersections and through red lights. During peak hours, traffic is hectic at best, with car horns, sharp braking and last-minute lane changes all part of an accepted road culture.
In 2018, the neighbouring municipality of Esplugues de Llobregat even made headlines when a woman died after being hit by an e-scooter. This raises separate questions around micromobility regulation, but also highlights how nonchalant riders are at risk in busy traffic. Similar trends can be seen in other densely populated cities, not only in Europe but also in the US and China in particular.
Until now, drivers have had to work from what they can see or hear—information that is either provided too late or in not enough detail
In the long term, C-V2X promises to tackle these issues, equipping cars, bikes, scooters and even pedestrians with receivers that can provide real-time alerts. Drivers can be warned of a nearby cyclist or pedestrian about to cross the road, for example, something that even the smartest of navigation systems cannot facilitate today.
Real-world trials have shown how even in their early stages, C-V2X functions can handle this to great effect. L’Hospitalet de Llobregat itself is no stranger to C-V2X, having served as a testbed for various applications over the last few years. SEAT has worked with Telefonica, for example, to make pedestrian crossings safer, and to warn vehicles entering a roundabout of nearby bicycles.
C-V2X has been on the cards for some time already, but efforts are now being catalysed by the rollout of new 5G networks. The idea is that, with rapid and reliable data exchange possible over 5G networks, C-V2X can warn drivers of possible collisions—in a matter of milliseconds—and alert drivers to changes in the local road environment in real time. Until now, drivers have had to work from what they can see or hear—information that is either provided too late or in not enough detail.
This is significant not only for drivers today but also for autonomous vehicles tomorrow
The push for C-V2X is simply an extension of a trend that has been seen for decades; drivers have always searched for ways to become better informed behind the wheel. Mirrors provide better visibility around the vehicle, radios offer traffic and weather updates, while parking sensors help to avoid any expensive accidents. But what if the car could warn of nearby cyclists about to dart out into the road? What if the car knew about sudden road closures up ahead, or could predict the ideal time to arrive at a set of traffic lights?
Technologies such as these are moving swiftly from concept to commercialisation, and promise to take road safety to the next level. This is significant not only for drivers today but also for autonomous vehicles tomorrow, which will effectively be able to see around corners, over hills and predict potential accidents.
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