6 mins read

There’s no question that technology-enabled connectivity is the way of the future. For us, in a work environment, that means using applications such as Microsoft Teams to speak to our colleagues remotely. There are even functions that allow us to send nonverbal signals to our colleagues – for example, setting our status; green for available, yellow for away, red for busy or do not disturb.

These functions are automated and continuously updated based on syncing with other programs we use, such as Microsoft Outlook.

In this time, we are finding that these technology-enabled signals are helping us to interact with our colleagues better and improve workplace efficiency – even when we’re not in the same physical location. 

The same thinking applies to our vehicle and road networkwhere the increase in connectivity can facilitate automation for efficiency as well as safety outcomes.  

In this space of ever-increasing connectivity for a vehicle, it is helpful to know the different kinds of connectivity involved.  

When we talk about vehicle and road network connectivity, different types of communication need to be considered.  

Cooperative connectivity enables direct communication between vehicles or infrastructure; it encompasses: 

  • Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communication – Refers to the wireless exchange of information between vehicles and road infrastructure. An example could be when vehicle connectivity captures infrastructure information to generate driver advisories on speed limits, unplanned roadworks, black ice warnings or traffic light signals.
  • Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication  Refers to the wireless exchange of information between vehicles with the same capabilities. For example, vehicle A is travelling behind a truck on a freeway. Vehicle B, which is travelling ahead of this truck, suddenly brakes, vehicle A cannot see vehicle B because there is a big truck between them. But thanks to V2V communication, an advisory message is generated from the data broadcast by vehicle B, to the driver of vehicle A – who can then act accordingly and avoid a collision. 
  • Vehicle to Cloud (V2C) connectivity – Refers to technology that enables the exchange of information with a cloud system. Examples can be seen in applications as wide-reaching as real-time traffic and disruption information for navigation, eCall services (where an emergency call is generated automatically when an accident is detected) or even the remote start and stop capability in enabled vehicles. 

Infrastructure like a vehicle can also have different kinds of connectivity: 

  • Infrastructure connectivity – Refers to connected infrastructure systems which could be a combination of cloud and cooperative connectivity. For the sake of simplicity, let’s talk about it in terms of cloud connectivity which would enable remote control from a central system. For example, network-controlled traffic light coordination from the Advanced Traffic Management System in use at a particular location. 

There are two clear benefits for everyone from increased connectivity in our vehicle and road system and even further benefits to those with connected vehicles. The first is that it will help to improve safety for road users. The second is that it will help to improve network efficiency.  

However, in Australia – if we continue on our current trajectory – we won’t begin to realise the benefits of increased connectivity for another 10-15 years. The two main reasons are: 

  • Lack of driving factors  Connected vehicles in Australia are still not mainstream. This could be for a range of reasons, one of which could be the discontinuation of the 2G network that was used by early connected programs. Another could be the lack of regulation around eCall which in Europe has driven cloud connectivity to be a mandatory feature in all new vehicles.  Further to this Australia has a pattern of keeping vehicles in service for quite a long time, so once connectivity does find its way into vehicles, it will take over a decade before this feature is present in the majority of vehicles on the road.  
  • The ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario  To achieve a vehicle and road network that embraces complete connectivity, vehicle manufacturers, drivers and governments must come to the party equally. Vehicle manufacturers must be prepared to invest in the most up to date vehicle technology. At the same time, governments must be ready to invest in the most up to date infrastructure technology to realise the full V2I communication benefits. The challenge is that we will only see widespread safety and efficiency benefits of some of these connected technologies once we reach a certain uptake. This has led to a standoff of sorts between vehicle manufacturers and government, as there’s no point in one investing without the other. Because it is a cost commitment (particularly for lower-end manufacturers) – and because the tangible benefits aren’t being fully realised just yet, the challenge will be convincing all parties to come on board. 

However, we can make a start and an impact

At Intelematics, we are continually looking at ways that can help solve these significant network challenges such as safety and efficiency. Admittedly, our vehicle and road networks are not set up for the perfect connectivity eco-system just yet – however we do have data and technology available to us right now, that could be used more effectively. The process of embracing connectivity for the long-term will be incremental, but there are improvements we can be making now. One of the methods we can use for efficiency is network-based optimisation. 

Are we ready for network-based optimisation now? 

Yes, we are. Three types of real-time data are available to us right now that can be used to improve our traffic network efficiency: 

These three key data types are the main contributors to a range of traffic and road network modelling which, when delivered in real-time or near real-time in conjunction with connected infrastructure, can enable traffic networks to adapt to the exact conditions experienced on the road network. This creates more efficient travel experience without any new infrastructure investment. 

Some examples of how this data can be used on the road network: 

  • Traffic light sequencing – adjusting green and red-light patterns to suit the current surrounding traffic conditions and optimise traffic flow across a whole area. 
  • Dynamic variable speed signs  adjusting speed limits on roads to suit the prevailing traffic conditions. For example, data may show a significant and sudden reduction in average speeds along a particular stretch of the road – indicating an incident or increasing the risk of one occurring– and the speed limit can be adjusted accordingly automatically without intervention. 
  • Dynamic ramp metering  adjusting signals dictating entrance to freeways to suit the current traffic conditions. For example, data may show high volumes of vehicles on a specific section of a freeway, so ramp metering may be slowed to allow for more staggered entry to the freeway at that time. However, if a ramp queue causes significant gridlock on surrounding roads (possibly local arterials), the frequency could be increased, balancing the needs of freeway flow vs significant local disruption. 

While some of these concepts do have existing implementations, they remain limited.  Currently, we rely on assisted decision support mechanisms to improve traffic flowusually on particular road corridors or managed motorwaysThis means that the live information may be available and communicated to, for example, to a road management centre automatically.  However, it still requires a person to push the button to make the change, a model or operation which is very difficult to scale to cover the whole road network of a large cityOther examples would be having signal operation operate based on the time of day. This is an excellent first step; however, to truly optimise the network more needs to be done. 

The current information being communicated and used to make decisions isn’t as rich and dynamic as it could be, and decisions are made based on a set of pre-populated circumstances and static modelling. 

We’re suggesting that for a more dynamically responsive network and real-time information is vital for network-wide modelling and can be achieved using data that is available now. To improve traffic flow efficiency traffic lights, variable speed signs, or ramp metering should all be coordinated to work together automatically and respond to real-time traffic conditions, ensuring optimisation of the whole road network. And the future rollout of vehicle connectivity will only further enable this and build on any safety benefits. 

At Intelematics, we provide insights on traffic flow data (average speed and congestion) and traffic volume databoth of which are available on our easy to use INSIGHT Portal. 

Intelematics INSIGHT - road traffic data portal

We are the data experts and know its potential to help improve safety and network efficiency; we expect to see it readily embraced by more organisations and professionals. 

If we embrace the data and technology available to us now, we will be able to see the long-term benefits of a more connected vehicle and road network brought forward, potentially reducing road trauma, vehicle emissions and saving us valuable commute time.