On the frontline of transport connectivity

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Advances in connectivity are opening up a new range of smart traffic solutions that will help improve road safety and traffic flows, and reduce carbon emissions. At the Connected Solutions Innovation Hub in California, Volvo Trucks is collaborating with industry partners to develop new possibilities and keep abreast of the latest connectivity trends.

A busy highway at night viewed from a truck cab

A typical Volvo truck is connected to far-off cell phone towers and satellites to help it navigate with GPS or connect to fleet management services for maintenance. However, Volvo Group’s connected vehicle specialists believe the next wave of truck technology will be more local. This could unlock the potential of connected vehicle technologies to solve major problems, such as making transport more productive and improving the quality of life for communities affected by heavy truck traffic.

It will give the truck and the driver real-time information, which will enable them to plan and react to changes as they are happening. These technologies can lead to improved traffic flow, greater safety and more efficiency.

Jenny Elfsberg, Volvo Group Connected Innovation Lab

They are working with a set of technologies that will allow a truck to communicate almost instantly with other vehicles and infrastructure around it. These include both medium-range radio waves that can “sense” up to 500 metres ahead, as well as high-speed 5G networks that allow vehicles to connect to the world around them at speeds up to 20 times faster than today’s 4G networks.

“It will give the truck and the driver real-time information, which will enable them to plan and react to changes as they are happening. These technologies can lead to improved traffic flow, greater safety and more efficiency,” says Jenny Elfsberg, who manages the Volvo Group Connected Solutions Innovation Lab in California, where she is tasked with establishing innovation partnerships to collaborate on emerging technologies, including connectivity.

Jenny Elfsberg, Volvo Group Connected Solutions Innovation Lab

Jenny Elfsberg, Volvo Group Connected Solutions Innovation Lab

Like plenty of other places in the world, California needs solutions to get its traffic flowing. The state already has a booming economy and a growing population. To add to that, the myriad of delivery services and car-sharing vehicles, fuelled by the state’s innovative tech sector, have added even more vehicles to roads and highways. In many cities and transport hubs, congestion has gone from bad to worse in recent years, causing long and costly delays for both commuters and freight firms. Luckily, California also has a head start in finding solutions: a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, ambitious climate goals and forward-thinking government agencies.

So how will new types of connectivity help California improve its traffic? Tests in the city of Carson, south of Los Angeles, may show a path forward. As part of a state agency-funded R&D project, Volvo Trucks, alongside other partners from the private and public sectors, demonstrated a concept called ‘Eco-Drive’ by linking trucks to smart traffic lights along selected freight corridors.

Futuristic aerial view of city

Via wireless communication, trucks obtain real-time signal phase and timing (SPaT) data from traffic lights when in close proximity. Each truck then integrates the SPaT data with its GPS co-ordinates and speed, as well as the traffic light location, to generate a real-time driving speed profile. This enables the driver to avoid sharp acceleration or braking manoeuvres as it approaches the traffic light.

The overall aim is to reduce stops and congestion, in order to improve health and quality of life in communities along freight corridors. Eco-Drive concepts are being evaluated on arterials near busy San Pedro Bay ports in Southern California. With around 70 per cent of imports and exports arriving in the US through California ports, allowing traffic to flow more efficiently along these connected routes can result in significant efficiency gains for goods flowing in and out of the US.

We’re in an exploratory phase right now, so government agencies and customers have a big role to play...By working together we can find the best paths to push the industry forward.

Dr. Aravind Kailas, Research and Innovation Manager, Volvo Group North America

“Eco-Drive shows that it’s possible to put this tech to use – but it’s just the very beginning,” says Jenny Elfsberg. In the future, she explains, these technologies can be employed for a myriad of efficiency improvements, like providing green corridors to give priority to buses, dangerous goods vehicles or late cargo. Meanwhile, sensors on infrastructure could provide status reports and traffic info to fleet managers in order to plan routes better. 

Dr. Aravind Kailas, Research and Innovation Manager Volvo Group North America

Dr. Aravind Kailas, Research and Innovation Manager Volvo Group North America

"Today, there is a lag in the information drivers receive from their surroundings, because the data have to be sent up to the Cloud and back. But, in the future, the information will be optimized – almost instantly. It will also be more interactive,” says Jenny Elfsberg. 

Real-time information can help make traffic planning very dynamic and tackle the type of congestion problems cities in California and around the world are struggling with. Increased connectivity will also improve safety in autonomous driving solutions, which are gradually being introduced into society.

Working from Volvo Group North America’s satellite office in Costa Mesa, an hour south of Los Angeles, Dr. Aravind Kailas, Research and Innovation Manager Volvo Group North America is an expert on connectivity and works with public policy development. 

Futuristic cityscape illustration

“One major reason better connectivity is being made possible is because electronics are becoming far less expensive and need far less battery power. And that makes it possible to add more sensors to both vehicles and infrastructure,” he says and adds: “We’re set to see more connectivity between vehicles and other vehicles and infrastructure, faster connections and more connectivity options – all this connectivity will solve more problems.” 

Dr. Aravind Kailas also believes that partnerships with city governments and customers will be key going forward.

“In California, there are a lot of creative policymakers and tech innovators. It’s the right mix to develop and deploy innovative transport solutions. Currently, we are in an exploratory phase, so both government agencies and customers will play a huge role in making sure these new technologies become commercially available. By working together, we can find the right path forward.” 

Connectivity – The Facts
The transport industry is set to see more and faster connectivity between trucks and the world around them, including other vehicles and infrastructure. This will significantly improve truck uptime.

The growth of connectivity is being driven in large part by the development of technology in both trucks and infrastructure, as well as the availability of inexpensive hardware.

Increased real-time connectivity can help solve traffic issues, such as safety, congestion and environmental impact. It makes the gradual introduction of other advanced transportation technologies, including automation and electromoility solutions, possible.

With its mix of forward-thinking government agencies and entrepreneurs, the State of California is emerging as a hotbed for championing innovative connectivity solutions that will revolutionize the way both people and freight are moved. 

The Eco-Drive Concept
Eco-Drive wirelessly obtains real-time information on traffic signals and timing data. It provides audio and visual feedback to truck drivers, allowing them to regulate and optimize their speed profiles. Eco-Drive has the potential to smooth traffic flow, reduce noise and increase road capacity.

Enabling future connectivity
Several different technologies: In the same way that your mobile uses 3G for calls, Bluetooth to connect to your headset and Wi-Fi to connect to your local internet network, connected vehicles and infrastructures will rely on a variety of different short-range and long-range communications technologies. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to solve every transport issue.

Dedicated short-range communication: Real-time, short-range (around 300m) communication that does not rely on telecommunication infrrastructure, such as mobile phone towers.

5G: The 5th generation of digital cellular networks. The network will be significantly faster than current capabilities (it is up to 20 times as fast as 4G LTE) and it is expected to advance machine-based, IoT-centric (Internet of Things) functionalities, which include autonomous and connected machines.

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