How a European project is helping facilitate autonomous vehicles

26th February 2017

By Hans Westerheim, Senior Adviser, Intelligent Transport SystemsSINTEF Digital

Urbanisation is placing pressure on regional and local authorities within many areas, like infrastructure development, schools, the development of living areas, social services, and mobility development. Along with urbanisation, society is facing an increase in technology development and availability that promises to support, and even overtake, many of the new and needed services.

How do European cities look at their own needs, capabilities and constraints when it comes to deploy technology for a better transport system? These changes pose a set of questions related to urban transport including: What are cities’ transport related challenges? Do European cities have strategies and plans on how technology might support local authorities in achieving better transport and traffic management? How can technology possibly support cities? What must cities do to be able to understand and adopt new technology?

The CIMEC project addressed these issues by collecting experiences, reflections and ideas from several European cities. This was done by means of two on-line surveys and a set of eight local and regional workshops. The project aimed to be the voice of cities, not having technology as a starting point, rather the concerns and the needs of cities were the focus. The target actors for the surveys and the workshops were not, as often has been the case, road traffic managers only. The project invited representatives from emergency services, public transport planners, and freight operators together with city transport secretaries.

The result was a set of challenges, as seen from the cities’ point of view, and activity areas where cities saw room for improvement, a set of use cases where concrete use of technology can support the cities, and a set of possible barriers against deployment of technologies for better transport management.

The CIMEC project focused on cooperative intelligent transport systems, C-ITS, as enabling technology. The C-ITS technology is information and communication technology applied for road transport, enabling road infrastructure and vehicles to communicate. It is the facilitator for automated vehicles and automated driving.

The surveys and the workshops identified road congestion, air pollution, traffic safety and the quality of public transport as the main challenges in urban transport and featured predominantly across the participating cities.

The workshops gave a good opportunity to explore the challenges and enabled the participants to discuss in more detail the situations in their own cities and the negative effects of the challenges for each actor in the city. For example, congestion causes problems for emergency vehicles, especially in crossings and also causes problems for public transport. For some cities, it is clear that some problems caused by congestion often lead to even more use of private cars, when the trust in public transport was weakened.

The issues that were linkable to C-ITS as technology were presented as use cases. The outcome was 18 use cases, each describing a situation in urban road transport that can be improved by means of deployment of C-ITS technology. Hence, all the use cases address situations involving two-way communication between vehicles in transport and the road infrastructure. They also address situations where the city as an authority–or an infrastructure manager–can actually influence the situation. None of the use cases have explicitly been addressed as the only possible solution for improvement of the situation.

The set of uses case gives an overview of how C-ITS can be implemented to address the challenges, however, cites saw some barriers against deployment of C-ITS.

The barriers included issues like economic, technical, political, organisational and legal. Several of the barriers were considered outside the city’s ability to change, or improve, to better facilitate C-ITS deployment. Most cities do not have the economic freedom to be able to prioritise all the areas for which they have responsibility.

Technical issues were both related to insecurity regarding which technology the cities should invest in. Since technology development is fast, and since the cities themselves have no control over the development they feel it is very difficult to know which technology to deploy. Secondly, technical and economic issues are linked, as there is a considerable cost in deploying roadside technology in a city, and there is also a lack of test and demonstrators for some types of equipment proving the ability and use of it.

The political issues covered the fact that national regulation in most countries does not keep up with the development in technology. Very few European cities are in a position to make their own regulations where national ones are missing.

Where cities can influence most is the organisational barrier. They were expressed by means of having too many actors in the city addressing transport, addressing infrastructure and being responsible for planning and development of a city. This is linked with a lack of good communication between the actors.

The CIMEC project also addressed the C-ITS deployment in cities from a supplier’s point of view. The results implicated that there is a need for further activities to bring the suppliers and the cities closer together.

Cities in Spain, France, Germany, Norway and United Kingdom participated in the workshops with the entire project supported by the H2020 research programme of the European Commission.

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