Navigant Research Blog

Cities Looking to Automated Vehicles to Solve Congestion and Emissions Challenges

— November 21, 2017

Around the world, major cities have been setting targets to combat the negative effects of local transport on public health, local pollution, noise levels, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Cities are looking increasingly at the potential of automated vehicles (AVs) to help solve these problems through improved traffic flow, the near elimination of collisions, increased productivity, and reduced pollution and GHG emissions.

 Moving toward Full Automation

The concept of automated or self-driving cars has shifted from the realm of science fiction into reality, as showcased by some of the latest developments in cities around the world:

 Key Challenges Remain

Partial automation is becoming commonplace in all road vehicle classes. Full driving automation is starting to be piloted in numerous cities globally with regular commercial deployments expected in the next 2 to 3 years. Before AVs can become ubiquitous in city streets, new infrastructure investments, communication network upgrades, the need for fleets to operate in varied conditions, and concerns about cybersecurity need to be addressed. Cities also need to develop frameworks to integrate and coordinate AV mobility services with existing transit services to optimize the use of road infrastructure and avoid increased congestion. Although the AV was not at fault for the accident, the recent Las Vegas automated shuttle collision shows why vehicle-to-vehicle communications will also be crucial to the success of AVs.

If AVs are managed properly, highly integrated with public transport, and coordinated as part of a multimodal transportation ecosystem, the shift to self-driving vehicles could lead to reduced traffic congestion in cities, lowered demand for parking spaces, and highly beneficial energy and environmental effects. For more information on the potential effects of AVs in cities, see Navigant Research’s recent white paper on Redefining Mobility Services in Cities.

 

Maps Transform into Long-Range Sensors for Cars

— November 16, 2017

In My Day

When I was young, maps were printed on paper, either bound into atlases or large sheets that were a puzzle to refold. We plotted routes to get from where we were to where we wanted to be. In-car electronics were largely limited to the AM/FM radio and maybe a tape player.

Maps in the car now are a mass of bits and bytes. Increasingly, the car itself is reading that data directly to make control decisions without any direct input from us mere humans.

The Decline of Paper Maps

The transition from paper maps to in-vehicle digital navigation got rolling in the mid-1990s. Early attempts at dead-reckoning navigation systems were limited and error-prone. The opening of the military’s satellite global positioning system (GPS) to civilian use was the key to success. The advent of the consumer smartphone a decade ago with built-in GPS and access to cloud-based Google Maps made it seem for a time that those pricey built-in navigation systems with costly annual map updates might become consigned to obsolescence.

Exploring Embedded Digital Maps

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with several different production cars using increasingly detailed embedded maps to improve fuel efficiency and safety in ways that a smartphone-based system is not capable. The humble map has now become a crucial long-range sensor input in cars ranging from the $25,000 Hyundai Ioniq to the $150,000 Mercedes-Benz S560.

Mercedes-Benz debuted predictive navigation as a powertrain control input several years ago with the S-Class plug-in hybrid and the Ioniq and Kia Niro are now doing the same. These electrified models take advantage of topographic information in their maps to manage the blending of power delivery from their electric motors and internal combustion engines.

How Do Embedded Maps Work?

By looking down the road on the map, the vehicles can detect when they will crest the peak of a grade they are climbing to go downhill. In such a situation, hybrids would typically limit the depth of battery discharge to help maximize battery longevity. However, if the powertrain control knows a downhill is approaching where it can recover energy through regenerative braking, it can increase depth of discharge (run longer on electricity) while climbing. This displaces use of the gasoline or diesel-powered engine, resulting in improved overall efficiency.

What Do Map Capabilities Mean for Automakers?

As automakers deploy ever more automated driving capability, they are also leveraging those digital maps to provide smoother and safer control. For the 2018 Cadillac CT6 with hands-off, partially automated Super Cruise, GM uses high-definition maps to geofence use, limiting it to divided highways. Once in use, the maps are used to augment the camera and radar sensors by looking 2,500 meters down the road for curvature and banking. If Super Cruise determines that the current speed set by the driver is too fast to safely get through a curve, it will automatically reduce the speed going into the curve and then resume the previous speed.

On the 2018 S-Class with Intelligent Drive, Mercedes takes this a step further. The Mercedes system requires the driver to keep hands on the wheel but allows its use on all roads. When active, it looks ahead for features like curves and roundabouts and automatically reduces the speed to a safe level. Activating the turn signal will cause the car to slow down as it approaches the next intersection on the map, allowing the driver to go around the corner without touching the brake pedal.

The Evolution toward Self-Driving Vehicles Saved Embedded Navigation

Thanks to the increasing interest in drive automation, the embedded navigation systems that seemed like they would be killed off by the smartphone are set to become a standard feature on all new cars in the next several years.

 

The Peer-to-Peer Future of EV Charging

— November 1, 2017

In cities where EV drivers believe they have limited access to publicly available charging infrastructure, the resulting range anxiety hinders plug-in EV (PEV) adoption rates. VW’s subsidiary, Electrify America, required investment in infrastructure because of the dieselgate settlement, which should help reduce range anxiety in many areas. A variety of new technologies are bringing new value to the existing EV charging infrastructure, a trend that could also help ease range anxiety and grow the EV market.

Communication Standards

Many standards from organizations such as the Society of Automotive Engineers have been established for communications between EVs and EV supply equipment (EVSE). Of note is International Standards Organization (ISO) 15118, which specifies a common understanding of all processes between an EV and EVSE. Specifically, ISO 15118 standardizes the communications between the EV communication controller and the supply equipment communication controller. The communication standards enable everything from bidirectional charging to transaction services. Vehicles that comply with ISO 15118 will allow for automatic owner account authentication at charging points that both prevents data manipulation and initiates seamless smart charging of EVs. The establishment of this standard enables bidirectional charging, which can provide utilities with grid services and creates the groundwork for the buying and selling of electricity between the grid, EVSE, and EVs.

RFID Technology

South Korea has been aggressively trying to support and expand its EV fleet. In 2015, the City of Seoul partnered with company Power Cube to give out special electric charger cables to enable drivers to recharge their vehicles at 100,000 locations with standard outlets. These cables are equipped with RFID readers that scan an RFID tag attached to the power outlet to be used. Power Cube then processes the transaction by transmitting the driver’s identity, time, place, and electricity purchased via a 3G wireless module included in the charging cable to Power Cube. Power Cube bills the user later, and then pays the electricity provider.

Seoul hoped that the giveaway would incentivize more private EV ownership; as of the program launch, the majority of EVs in Seoul were owned by public sector entities. It intended to give out all 100,000 cables by 2018. Each cable costs 1 million won (about $917) and has a charge capacity at 3.3 kW. While there has been no coverage of the program since its inception, there continues to be a market opportunity for transaction authentication in the EV charging space, with the City of Busan’s launch of a similar program in 2016.

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain could offer a low cost and reliable way for transactions to be recorded and validated across a distributed network with no central point of authority. It also removes some of the technological barriers associated with dynamic and wireless charging; these services can use blockchain technology to record and validate the purchase of electricity from these chargers automatically, without driver intervention.

In Germany, blockchain technology can be used to authenticate and manage the billing process for EV charging stations. For example, Car eWallet will enable a driver’s car to pay for charging, with no need for pulling out a credit card.

Share&Charge, another e-mobility service, has completed its pilot in Germany and is partnering with eMotorWerks to bring its services to California. Participation in the pilot will be based on a first come, first serve basis. Share&Charge uses the Ethereum blockchain because of its support for smart contracts. It creates a token on this chain and users provide/receive payment in these tokens that then can be redeemed for traditional currencies.

Although the use of these services for widespread dynamic charging services is still a ways down the road, these EV-focused transactional services could expand publicly available charging infrastructure by enabling point-to-point sharing of private EV charging stations. They could also enable future applications such as toll payments and carsharing services.

Navigant Research’s upcoming report, Wireless EV Charging, focuses on how wireless charging technology has become increasingly more efficient over the past couple years. A growing number of pilot programs and applications are popping up around the world. As these actors move forward with expanding charging infrastructure, developing technologies may help process and authenticate future transactions.

 

There Are No Self-Driving Cars for Sale Yet

— October 25, 2017

Let’s be absolutely clear about something. As I write these words in October 2017, there are exactly zero self-driving vehicles available for consumers to purchase in America. In fact, Elon Musk’s proclamations and pre-sales of non-existent technology aside, it will likely be at least several more years before an individual can buy a self-driving vehicle. With that in mind, the media needs to stop using the term self-driving in the context of any production vehicle.

Misleading Headlines

In recent weeks, Cadillac has conducted a cross-country media preview of the 2018 CT6 sedan with the first production application of its Super Cruise system. From the event launch in Manhattan to its arrival in Los Angeles 2 weeks later, media outlets including NBC’s Today show, USA Today, Business Insider, and Fortune have referred to Super Cruise as self-driving. In doing so, they are doing a disservice to their own credibility, to consumers, to General Motors (GM), and to every engineer working on automated driving technology.

To its credit, GM itself never calls this self-driving or automated technology. Following the 2014 ignition switch recall, GM instituted new safety review procedures on new products and those changes are reflected in the capabilities and limitations of Super Cruise.

What Is the 2018 CT6 Super Cruise?

This is a very capable advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) similar in principle to Tesla Auto Pilot, Volvo Pilot Assist, and Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot. Navigant Research’s Automated Driving Vehicle Technology report projects that these types of systems—defined as Level 2 partial automation by SAE—will account for nearly 59 million sales annually by 2026.

I personally spent nearly 900 miles with the system over 2 days. Within its operating domain, it works very well. But the key is that operating domain or definition of where the system can work. This is a supervised partially automated assisted driving system. On divided highways where there are no intersections, cyclists, or pedestrians, Super Cruise can handle steering, acceleration, and braking with the driver taking their hands and feet off the steering wheel and pedals.

That doesn’t make it automated. As the Super Cruise branding implies, this is a more advanced adaptive cruise control. The driver must still watch the road and be ready to take over when the system encounters a situation it cannot handle such as a construction zone, lane merge, or faded lane markings.

A face tracking camera similar in principle to the Face ID system on the upcoming Apple iPhone X watches for facial and eye movements to ensure the driver is alert and attentive, something no other current ADAS does. Meanwhile, high definition navigation maps prevent inappropriate use on surface streets.

Misrepresentation Leads to Unrealistic Expectations

By continuing to call Super Cruise self-driving, media creates unjustified expectations of its capabilities with consumers. GM’s design approach should reduce the sort of misadventures we’ve seen from Tesla drivers on YouTube. However, customers that bought into the media hyperbole may be disappointed with the more cautious assisted driving technologies. Even as the technologies become more sophisticated, customers burned by misleading headlines today may remain skeptical and decide to hold off on future purchases, which damages the overall goal of improving safety on the road.

Patience

It’s one thing to take someone like Elon Musk at his word and assume he’s going to deliver what he promises (which he often eventually does, albeit over budget and months to years late). But by inaccurately portraying what a product can and more importantly cannot do, customer interest (and possibly safety) can be compromised. Truly automated vehicles will get here soon enough. Let’s not rush to mislabel.

 

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