Even with the popularity of crowd-sourced traffic apps, motorists know precious little about their everyday commute.
The lack of information about roadway and weather conditions is more than annoying, in some cases it’s killing us. In analyzing more than 2 million automotive accidents in the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that a
whopping 94% of the crashes were traced to driver issues (error in judgment, driver distraction, poor attention, inadequate surveillance). The World Health Organization (WHO) says 1.24 million people die every year in traffic accidents.
International automotive supplier Continental, has ambitious plans to lower that number to zero, using Big Data, cloud and IBM Watson. And it all starts with the introduction of the semi-automated vehicle next year, being jointly developed by Continental and IBM.
The car will harness cloud and data analytics to enable vehicles to see around corners or even miles down the road and to drive themselves. In addition to greater visibility, an early rollout of the vehicle has achieved impressive fuel savings in trucks, says Ralf Lenninger, head of innovation and strategy for Continental’s Interior division. A Smarter Planet blog caught up with Lenninger recently to discuss the plan.
Smarter Planet: How close are automated cars to becoming reality?
Ralf Lenninger: We’re very close. The technology is already on the market to help the driver to cruise effortlessly along highways and to avoid accidents. Many high-end cars already have electronic stability control plus adaptive cruise control and lane departure warnings. If you merge these technologies together, you get the first step in automated driving. When we make that leap, the car will be able to obtain and process even more information to keep the driver informed. The car will know the street ahead and make the necessary adjustments.
In 2016, we will start seeing mass production for semi-automated driving solutions. By 2020, we will be ready for highly automated driving scenarios and fully automated by 2025. One of the main tasks will lie in using the cloud as an information carrier for the vehicle. Automated vehicles will need to know what lies around the next corner – is the road free, or is there a construction site? We will achieve this with eHorizon, a technology we are realizing together with IBM.
SP: A self-driving car may sound like science fiction, but you’re dead serious about its implications to improve, and even save, lives.
RL: That’s right. At Continental, we talk about Vision Zero, which is a future of zero traffic fatalities and zero accidents. Cleary we think there will be a point in time where accidents belong to a museum. Keep in mind that 90% of accidents are caused because the motorist is careless, distracted, tired. If we can eliminate these moments we can save a lot of lives. It’s not just a nice feature. Society demands it. The end goal is a safer car, a cleaner car, and a car you will enjoy sitting in. We think that with the technology available we can get it done.
SP: There’s a green element to eHorizon, too.
RL: We first introduced eHorizon in trucks for the Swedish truck manufacturer Scania in 2012. It wasn’t even a fully connected technology. And still, the fuel savings were four percent, which is huge! Here’s how it works. The truck talks to the map. The truck asks, ‘What’s going on? What kind of hills do we have in front? What do you ask me to do?’ The driver sees absolutely nothing, and still the fuel saving was four percent. We have more than six or seven other programs where mass production will be starting next year, and the year after. The wave is coming because of the desire to reduce CO2 emissions and because it’s a lot of money.
SP: How important is collaboration in pulling off such a huge innovation?
RL: Keep in mind, the connected car is part of the Internet of Everything movement. You will think of your car as a smartphone on wheels. Our core competency is in designing and developing automotive technologies. We supply at least 95% of the world’s automakers with tires and automotive components. IT is not our core competence. So we are working with leading companies in connectivity and mapping. IBM provides the big data analytics and, soon, Watson, for voice-controlled driving.
SP: How will that work?
RL: It’s a combination of big data, cloud and connectivity. Even today’s cars throw off between 200-300 megabytes of data per second. But it’s not all relevant to the driver. That’s where data analytics come in. With IBM’s help, the car can process the pertinent data and make accurate predictions of the road ahead. That’s the first big task of eHorizon, pulling what’s relevant, packing it together into a secure protocol, and sending it via the cloud to a massive backend that can make sense of the traffic situation, the road conditions, the cars around you, and the weather—all in real-time. This real-time road-mapping will tell the car how to best manage the route home to minimize fuel consumption and reduce traffic tie-ups. The big data and networking capabilities will be massive. If millions of cars are sending so much information you need very sophisticated big data management and analytic processes.
SP: This is a massive networking challenge. Maybe the biggest ever.
RL: The networking infrastructure being built for this project is unprecedented. But society is demanding this and the payoff is potentially huge. It will make the roadways safer and the air cleaner. Also, remember that the average commuting time is 80 minutes. We think there should be solutions to give the gift of time back to the people.
Continental is one of several organizations featured in IBM’s WildDuck series of podcasts and videos that celebrate the innovators of tomorrow, today. A version of this story appeared on the IBM Smarter Planet Voice, in Forbes earlier this month.