Dubai Tram and smart cars - following the same lines?

As revamped mass transit systems attempt to tackle urban transport issues, will smart cars also play a part in the future of transport?

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Dubai Tram and smart cars - following the same lines? Smart car solutions can increase safety and help reduce congestion, as well as providing a less stressful experience for drivers, says Marini.
By  Laurent Marini Published  December 15, 2014

It is ironic that more than 100 years ago, in the smart cities of the time across the world, the tram (or streetcar or trolley - horsedrawn and then electric) was a common feature and a staple of the integrated transport system. 60 years ago, we scrapped the trams and dug up the lines, as the personal motor car conquered the city.

Since then, the tram has made a big comeback.

Today there are tram systems and developments in many of the most advanced cities across the world - none newer than Dubai's own tram system, launched in November 2014.

Dubai Tram started with a fanfare and with free wifi courtesy of Du - another example of how 21st century public transport can encourage passengers and meet their connectivity needs onboard, in a way that cars cannot - at the moment.

Can or will the car strike back?

Physically connecting people to the city is an important element of a smart city, along with the network that connects citizens, residents, visitors and tourists, to the city and each other, through connected devices. Connected transport - such as the connected tram - is part of the vibrant smart city network, like another connected device.  

Trams are also pretty safe compared to cars, which is especially welcome in Dubai. But can cars make a comeback?

M2M (machine to machine connectivity) in the automotive sector is not limited to connecting cars with the web or telematics systems. A US initiative to get cars talking to each other could lead to a dramatic fall in road accidents.

The US Department of Transport's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that it is considering making vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology compulsory on US roads, confirming previous claims that it was aiming to make this happen as soon as 2017.

The NHTSA believes such technologies will make roads much safer, at the cost of around $350 per vehicle and could help drivers avoid up to 80 percent of accidents.

The principle is simple enough: Cars equipped with V2V technology are capable of maintaining constant communication with nearby vehicles using short-range radio signals. They send and receive this information ten times per second, sharing data on speed, proximity, car signaling and potentially threatening obstacles they find.

The idea is that drivers (or the cars themselves, if they are autonomous) can be kept out of trouble by their own car.

The NHTSA is particularly keen on two key applications of V2V technology, Left Turn Assist (LTA) and Intersection Movement Assist (IMA). It says these two measures alone could prevent over half a billion accidents and save 1,083 US lives each year.

These technologies are designed to prevent collisions at intersections by warning drivers about what other vehicles may be doing, such as running a red light at an intersection or accelerating past a driver's blind spot.

Car manufacturer Volvo has listed several additional situations in which V2V could be useful, including:

  • • Emergency vehicle warnings
  • • Road works warning
  • • Communication with slow or broken-down vehicles
  • • Prior notice of traffic jams
  • • Weather data from cars further up the road

European auto manufacturer members of the CAR 2 CAR Communication Consortium are already working to agree a set of standards and shared technologies for V2V by 2016. US manufacturers are driving in the same direction with the Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment Program.

While the US system described in the latest report is based on short-range radio, it seems probable that cellular services may also play some part, assuming data sharing deals and protocols to manage message congestion can be achieved. In the event V2V systems remain confined to short distance radio M2M implementations, they will continue to gather information that can be applied within the wider connected car industry.

This could have huge implications on road transit management, making it possible to identify dangerous patches of road, congestion and other common problems, with the added granular insight gathered from information as detailed as anonymised driver behaviors at a certain point over time.

The NHTSA isn't alone in championing the potential of connected vehicles. The ITU has also been exploring such implementations for some years, while the EU's eCall law means all new European cars sold will be connected starting in 2015.

The safety features will be attractive to most drivers, but privacy is important too. In the US at least the agency says the information shared by vehicles will not identify the cars or drivers, and that the system used will comprise several layers of security protection to maintain privacy and ensure vehicles can rely on the information they share and receive.

The report also discusses ways in which such systems may help relieve city congestion. That's not such a bad idea when you consider that in 2010, urban Americans wasted 4.8 billion hours and 1.9 billion gallons of fuel in congestion, or INRIX' claim that UK drivers spend up to three days each year in traffic jams.

In all these cases the implications and potential implementations for autonomous transportation are also remarkable: self-driving vehicles will be capable of intelligently taking themselves from distribution centre to retail outlets, and, unlike human haulage drivers, will be able to work 24/7.

Laurent Marini is Managing Director and Director of the board for Orange Business Services Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

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