May 15, 2011: George Gillespie; CEO, MIRA on smartphones and personal mobility
George Gillespie; CEO, MIRA on smartphones and personal mobility
Intelligent Transportation Systems are some years away in India, and even here they are understood to connote more efficient bus and truck fleet management, nothing more. But ITS in Europe has evolved to encompass all forms of mobility. What kinds of application of ITS can we expect?
The truth is, ITS is a very, very broad field. And it covers areas like the one’s you’ve mentioned. To speak of current applications, commercial vehicle fleet logistics is one of the best commercial opportunities for ITS — not only fleet management but also things like driver training and real-time vehicle driving inputs. They’re looking at things like monitoring acceleration and deceleration, because it’s been shown repeatedly in studies that with good real-time eco driving input, you get an improvement upwards of 12 percent in fuel economy — and that’s before you can make any investment in the powertrain or aerodynamics or anything else.
Are those driving-assistance systems you’re talking about?
ITS is moving in that direction, yes. The SAFERIDER project, for example, is about providing a motorcycle rider with inputs that make him more aware of his surroundings, either knowing what he’s coming to on the road (curve awareness, for example) or what other vehicles are doing (spatial awareness). All of this is to give him more information so he can ride more safely, and to give him some additional warning if he is moving into a dangerous situation.One additional challenge with motorcycles is, how do you provide that information to the motorcyclist? In a car it’s a little easier because you can have a nice display. On a motorcycle you have vibration alerts, through a handglove or through the seat, to alert the driver to a hazard. Of course the challenge for a country like India – this was a comment made to me by one of the OEMs – is, we have to get people to wear helmets first before we even consider some of these technologies, but these technologies will eventually come. So, in summary, ITS is freight logistics in commercial vehicles, it’s real consumer applications in vehicles right now, it’s safety awareness…
What are the challenges for the establishment of a ubiquitous ITS?
The big question is — is ITS something that is driven by the government, in terms of largescale infrastructure investment and systems on the roads? Or is it driven by the OEMs, who provide features in their vehicles? Or is it driven by a third community? My personal opinion is it is increasingly being driven by a third community centred on the mobile data device or smartphone, which has ever increasing computing power. This trend is often referred to as the ‘Connected Car’.The challenge for the OEMs? A vehicle is designed to have a life of at least 10 years whereas a vehicle's original computing technologies will have many lifecycles over that period. It is impossible, in my opinion, for OEMs to accurately predict where computing and communications technologies are going, so the challenge for them is providing connectivity to these technologies. For example, they are looking at how to provide connectivity to mobile data devices, not knowing what those devices are going to be capable of even in two or three years’ time.As well as connectivity to these devices, it is also providing a safe environment for the driver to assimilate information from them. Taking information directly from a mobile phone while driving is not safe. You’ve got this very powerful device but you can’t safely interact with it visually in real time. So the OEMs provide connectivity to the device via an in-vehicle information system (IVIS) that allows you to safely display information from the mobile data device in the driver’s line of sight.This is almost a disruptive technology. If you go onto Apple’s iStore, there are already a few hundred travel-based apps for the iPhone.. We don’t actually know what travel applications for mobile data devices are really going to catch the consumer’s eye — it is impossible to predict that at the moment. My personal view is that the largescale rollout of telematics within vehicles is going to be driven more by innovative, interesting applications for mobile devices that catch the consumer’s eye than by government investing into a huge national infrastructure.For non-safety-critical features the infrastructure already exists via the mobile network. For safety-critical features the signal integrity of the mobile network is not yet sufficient. Again, a lot of work is being done, and together with our strategic partners, innovITS and TRL, we’ve just commissioned what is Europe’s first dedicated ITS test facility, based at MIRA. This facility, known as innovITS ADVANCE, is a proving ground with its own dedicated wireless communications, global positioning, and ground truth systems. Here we can look at the impact on mobile devices of having an interrupted or degraded signal, at issues of handover when you move from one cell into the next cell. This becomes important when you start to look for more and more signal integrity on the device.I see ITS as a bit like the Internet revolution— we’re not really sure how it’s going to roll out in a vehicle, but I’m absolutely convinced that it will be driven by the use of these mobile devices, connectivity to the vehicle, and the in-vehicle display of the information in a safe and appropriate manner. I call this a disruptive technology because we don’t really know how it’s going to play out, but I’m convinced that’s where the opportunities will come and that’s where our ITS strategy is focused.
Could you cite some more examples of ITS apps that run on smartphones?
Besides apps for eco-driving and driver training, several others already exist today, including navigation apps with real-time data, eCall apps that share your position with the emergency services, and black box apps that record vehicle data (over Bluetooth from the on-board diagnostics connector) that could be linked to insurance, road tax, etc. This is a huge shift from the standard automotive model, particularly for apps like navigation. Large amounts of data can be generated rapidly, and updated in real time.The more popular apps of this type include Mapquest, in which all the map data are generated by users with GPS devices, which means it is completely open source, reducing the cost for application developers but also allowing maps to evolve quickly — for example, it could be updated with temporary road closures and speed limits.Another popular app, Google Maps, offers accurate traffic information for major UK roads (updated hourly, I believe) and they are already trying to use data from people using Google location-based services on their phone to estimate traffic speeds on minor roads. Waze exemplifies the trend towards “social” apps that allow users to share information on congestion, fuel prices, and the like.
Does MIRA’s work in ITS encompass the whole spectrum of vehicles?
The majority of activity at MIRA is based around passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, and the understanding of the use of ITS in that area. But what we liked about the SAFERIDER project was the additional challenge of providing data to a rider in a safe manner. That’s how we came to solutions like “active gloves” that can provide vibration alerts to hazards — something you wouldn’t see on a passenger car. I also think that there is a role for the mobile device here too, once we’ve solved the issues of interaction with the rider on a motorcycle. For example, if you have your mobile phone in your pocket and you’re riding out on a motorcycle, there’s absolutely no reason why the motorcycle can’t have the connectivity to take the app you’ve got on the phone and display it on a small screen in a more appropriate place in front of you on the motorcycle.For the Indian market right now this is not commercially viable. I believe these devices will be rolled out on premium-end motorcycles initially, probably in Europe, where the greatest appetite seems to be for this technology. Some of the premium manufacturers there will no doubt begin to adopt these systems. As the volumes build, then as with all technologies, the cost will come down, we will understand better how to apply it, and at some point this may become a feature on motorcycles here in India. But I suspect that’s still a good number of years away.
You talked about a mobile phone, but the SAFERIDER demonstrator (MIRA showed at the SIAT in Pune in January) has a GPS device fixed into the motorcycle…
That one doesn’t use a mobile data device. But another of our projects called FootLITE is deliberately focused on the use of mobile phones to provide a car driver with real-time information on how he’s driving with the target to improve his driving, both from an economical and from a safety point of view. This is accomplished by providing continuous feedback, calculated based on advanced algorithms, via an innovative HMI display, so the driver can adjust his driving style to be economically efficient. The mobile phone technology is clearly already there, but again the challenge is around connectivity and the safe display of information. And here I think you’ll see legislation, which currently has not caught up with the technology. Legislation will need to come in, maybe first in Europe or the US, and then it will spread.
Intriguingly, this is like untethering all the functionality that traditionally has been tethered to the vehicle. With the scenario you describe, if I get into another car I still have the same functionality available to me if I have the same mobile device with me. And since I carry the device with me, it’s a personal technology now — it’s not a vehicle technology anymore…
Yes, you’ve caught the essence of that, it’s a disruptive technology in terms of the traditional automotive industry — when you’re in your vehicle the OEM has delivered everything to you that you touch, feel and sense in that vehicle. In the future your music, in fact all your entertainment will come via a mobile data device, whether it’s an iPhone or iPod or whatever. There will be no need for expensive in-car entertainment systems. All you need will be connectivity.
And since this is a personal thing, it extends not just to you using a vehicle in traffic, but even when you’re a pedestrian. This touches you whenever you are mobile, not just when you’re in a vehicle…
In connection with ITS, one of the buzzwords that’s used extensively nowadays is “multimodal journeys”. Your mobile phone is the one device that goes with you as you walk from your home to the bus, take the bus to the railway station, take the train etc. Imagine the following: You want to know as you’re on the bus approaching the railway station — ‘I need the train to Mumbai. What platform’s it on and when is it going to be there? Where is my seat on it?’ And as you’re sitting in the train approaching Mumbai, ‘I want to pre-order a taxi, I want to know what the taxi number is going to be and where it will be.’ All that technology exists, you’re carrying it with you. But in the vehicle OEMs are having to face additional challenges — not least understanding what their relationship is going to have to be to the driver.
You mentioned your clients will increasingly be smartphone developers and operators of mobile phone networks — what are the kinds of things will you be developing with them?
Look at what a network provider or mobile data device provider is looking for in terms of moving into the on-road situation — they know how to communicate back and forth and how to get data onto this device, but they don’t know how to get that data safely to the driver. The automotive industry has understood for many years how to convey information in a safe manner to the driver in a relatively background mode, because we can pick up information without realising it as we drive along. They need to understand that, and that’s the role that we are playing, helping them to take all the wonderful things that they can do, and actually turn them into useful, safe information for the driver. And that’s where we bring our automotive understanding of driver behaviour and of vehicle design. That's where our future opportunities lie.Going forward we are also looking at the scope to use these devices, not yet in safety-critical scenarios but certainly moving in this direction as safety continues to be a critical element within the delivery of the whole vehicle. The integrity of the signal becomes very important at this point and clearly there’s work to be done here. That’s where the new ITS proving ground comes into its own. These companies need access to facilities like this to replicate real-world scenarios in a safe and secure environment. For example, testing out the impact of signal degradation and handshakes between communication nodes on a connected car in an urban environment. So it’s in the interaction of their technology with the automotive world that we are helping them with.
With 3G as it has been implemented, and the networks the way they are configured now, are they good enough for a full-fledged ITS, or will it need the next generation?
I’m not an expert when it comes to the signal side of things but I do know that even with 3G and the coverage that we’ve got in Europe, it’s not yet applicable for safety-critical applications because you cannot have a system that you are dependent on for safety which can drop out. For safety-critical applications we may end up having to go to roadside infrastructure that provides a very safe signal at a high frequency at a localised level and perhaps then it only goes into danger spots, junctions and things like that.
When you say “safety-critical” are you talking about driver assistance systems, or “active” safety intervention?
There’s a range of what I call “softer” safety-critical applications like lane departure and blind spot warnings which require systems on your vehicle that won’t come from your phone. The majority of safety-critical features will remain the domain of the manufacturer, because the manufacturer is responsible for designing safety in to the vehicle. Safety does sell, in terms of making a product more attractive to a consumer. However, once everyone perceives that a vehicle is relatively safe, the customer’s estimation of the benefit of increased safety versus cost does reduce. We have all got used to having airbags and seatbelt restraint systems, and are no longer prepared to pay a premium — we just expect them. Are people willing to pay a premium for lane departure warning systems? Possibly, but not a significant premium.
Could you tell us a bit more about the ADVANCE ITS test facility?
The track was built in 12 months with an investment of £10 million from the UK government. We’ve put in a lot of new roads, lots of typical city junctions. We’ve got roundabouts and T-junctions, for example, a T-junction at the top of a hill where the driver of the vehicle, instead of looking at other vehicles, is looking at the sky. How do you deal with that situation? It’s no good having a system that doesn’t work when you come to the top of a hill. How do you test that properly? You have to build a facility to do that and that’s what ADVANCE does.The facility will be used for all forms of transport, even for pedestrian activity, for example how does a vehicle identify a pedestrian about to walk out onto the road from between parked cars, or a cyclist at a busy junction? Such scenarios require systems on the vehicle to detect the hazard and warn the driver and possibly take control of the vehicle for a moment. All these systems have to be developed and tested, which is the sort of work MIRA will do using the ADVANCE facility.
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