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The rapid incorporation of new technologies in the automotive sector is expected to bring about a change not only in mobility but also in our lifestyles due to the gradual and constant incorporation of connected, autonomous and automated vehicles on our roads.
Today, although at first sight it may seem contradictory, technology is not the key to a massive deployment of this type of vehicle, but aspects such as collaboration between the different sectors involved, social acceptance, legislation and ethics are crucial to make this revolution a success.
Due to the numerous factors that will lead to its reception and the impacts on infrastructures, we will publish several posts throughout this year in which we will deal with different topics with the aim of generating an open debate.
"The object of all discussion should not be triumph, but progress."
Joseph Antoine René Joubert
The different nomenclatures given to the driverless vehicle depending on the forum in which we find ourselves might seem insignificant at first glance. However, as we shall see, these small differences condition their use and requirements:
Until very recently, the car was one of the few environments that was not connected to the network; however, the integration of SIM cards in the dashboard of vehicles has changed the trend. This has led to significant improvements in road safety thanks to the e-Call system, which allows vehicles to be connected to emergency centres and will be mandatory for all vehicles leaving the factory from 2019.
The true potential of the connected car will come when each vehicle is able to communicate with others (vehicle to vehicle - V2V) by receiving real-time, accurate and advance information on weather events, congestion, road closures and accidents in order to make decisions on the part of the vehicle or driver.
The powerful automotive lobby has spent years researching how to develop and incorporate in-vehicle systems that allow total independence from the rest of the elements that make up the transport network. This has led to vehicles being fitted with highly sophisticated devices (LIDAR, radar, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, GPS...) which, according to industry claims, would make them self-sufficient in any situation.
However, the lack of system redundancy, the risk during the period of mixed traffic1 and the programmed ethics of the vehicle itself, among others, make this technology fragile to unforeseen events.
So why has the car industry opted for this route? Suspicion is the answer to everything:
1Mixed traffic: coexistence of conventional and autonomous vehicles in the infrastructure.
2Latency: the time delay that occurs between a signal being sent and received within the communications network.
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As we have seen so far, research has been oriented towards improving the capabilities of the vehicle itself. However, the in-vehicle technology, the connection between vehicles and the connection to the infrastructure is what is called vehicle-to-everything (V2X). This new trend advocates that connecting the vehicle "with everything" will radically improve safety and facilitate deployment.
While the connected and autonomous vehicle seems a viable and safe solution when 100% of the fleet is connected and autonomous, during the transition period when traditional and autonomous vehicles coexist, the role of infrastructure will be crucial to guide and support the vehicles.
Collaboration between different entities is still at a very embryonic stage as the profile of each of the industries involved is very different. For example, the infrastructure sector is traditional and with a high public component, which makes it slow to change; however, telcos are used to change and have great capacity to invest in different technologies.
As a consequence of this new scenario, road infrastructure is facing a potential shift in its traditional operation from being a mere provider of physical support to also becoming a provider of digital information. This change has major implications for the sector as it would no longer be a "passive" element in traffic circulation but an "active and service-providing" element, which would lead to addressing issues such as safety and fleet management.
Are infrastructure operators prepared for this change? Do current PPP models meet the needs of the future? Does the sector need to think about new business models to cover the risks of the future? Will the concession business change when this situation arises?
It seems that for development to accelerate and for safety conditions to be optimal for mass deployment, the different actors involved in transport are doomed to understand each other. Therefore, more and more consortia are trying to join forces to find and standardise the most efficient and safest systems to deploy on the roads.
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with company."