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Honk if the car in front is connected

The networked car is coming sooner than you think

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A major contribution to road safety

Even if the traffic still jams up, semi-autonomous systems can establish a common speed impossible to attain among dozens and dozens of human drivers, to keep the traffic moving. Slow progress is better than no progress, and better able to keep drivers’ tempers under control than start-stop movement, even if the bursts of speed are high. Volvo and car automation specialist Ricardo, working under the auspices of the European Union’s Project Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) have shown this kind of thing works.

Cars won’t just be communicating with each other but also with the infrastructure. So in cities, they will be talking to the traffic management systems with the aim of making everyone’s journey as smooth and as quick as possible, and with the overall aim of reducing emissions and fuel consumption.

Google car

Google's driverless car: a long way from showrooms

You can expect connected cars to start appearing in showrooms some time in 2015. They won't be self-driving. Far from it, in fact, as there’s a whole host of legal and practical issues that must be addressed before that happens. Instead, they’ll use their car-to-car connectivity to help make motoring more safe.

According to Ford’s van der Jagt: “We will start with warnings about roadworks, traffic jams and emergency vehicles. This is easy to implement. Vehicles can take that information, inform the driver and pass it on to any other vehicle within a 300 metre radius.”

Further down the road, he reckons, “you will know about all the cars around you, such as those that have stopped, or those that are invisible because of obstructions, and we can take action on all those scenarios”.

Back-seat drivers

This begs the question of how far the driver will be involved in future. Are we destined to become passive passengers in our own cars?

“We could get to a point where the completely automated car could arrive,” muses van der Jagt, “but full autonomy is very, very far out. So you can’t fall asleep in the back seat - there’s no legislative framework for that.”

Semi-automated cars will be here sooner than you think. There’s already a range of cars available, from makers as diverse as Audi, Toyota, Ford and Kia, that can park themselves. Add car-to-car connectivity, and controlled situations such as slow motorway flow lend themselves to automation.

ITS usage: traffic jam warning

Jam session: avoiding gridlock, the ITS way: free-moving cars warn vehicles approaching the slow-down
Source: Car-2-Car Consortium

“Most people would like to have a Mondeo that drives itself,” says van der Jagt. “In controlled conditions in a motorway jam, the car could take over.” You can expect that to arrive within ten years, he predicts.

Van der Jagt wouldn’t be drawn on which Ford will be first to sport interconnectedness, saying only that the new features will arrive in the course of the normal rhythm of car updates; but he didn't argue when I suggested it might indeed be a Mondeo.

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