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Project Success Stories - Smarter vehicles to safely cruise Europe's 'i-ways' and byways

European researchers have developed new automotive systems and technologies to help make Europe's highways and byways a safer, smoother driving experience.
Project Success Stories - Smarter vehicles to safely cruise Europe's 'i-ways' and byways
Imagine yourself cruising the highway with the music up loud, cars whizzing past, the children arguing in the back and your car GPS trying to tell you something in Homer Simpson's voice. It's all too much for the average motorist, according to a team of European researchers investigating, among other things, the impact of driver attention, information technology and road accidents.

Their work is part of a broader European research and development initiative to develop next-generation intelligent transport systems (ITS) which will help make transport more efficient, safe and environmentally-friendly.

A major focus of the' Intelligent cooperative system in cars for road safety' (I-WAY) project was to gather real-time information about the motorist, road conditions and what is happening in and around a vehicle in order to assess the status and to act on it.

This builds on a branch of science which investigates 'driver hypo-vigilance' as a cause of road accidents and draws on the results of earlier EU research efforts, such as the AWAKE and Prevent projects, which worked on unobtrusive, reliable systems that monitor the driver and the environment and detect, in real time and based on multiple parameters, whether drivers are facing 'hypo-vigilance' issues.

The EU-funded I-WAY consortium used information from in-vehicle sensors, car-to-car (C2C) communication channels and interaction with roadside infrastructure (car-to-infrastructure, C2I) to create an aggregated picture of realistic driving conditions.

Not reinventing the wheel

The I-WAY team ― made up of industry and academic partners from Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg and the UK ― used comparatively simple and low-cost technologies, many of which already existed.

The team's intention was never to reinvent the wheel. If there was another European project working on systems or subsystems that could be adapted or used, they were integrated into the platform. The result was an interoperable toolset supporting both C2I and C2C communication, a 'cooperative system for road safety'.

For example, the project developed a simple but effective video system for road observation. The external video generates information about the traffic environment and driving conditions and combines some off-the-shelf parts, such as radar technology, with complex C2C communications supplied by other European research projects that can be used to provide important high-level safety information for the driver in real time.

In this sense, cooperation means more than a car handling better thanks to technologies, such as antilock braking systems or lane-keeping sensors in high-end car models. It means vehicles cooperating, not only by receiving information from infrastructure, such as traffic lights or weather stations, but also by serving as scouts reporting on conditions ahead.

I-WAY's driving platform can ubiquitously monitor and recognise the road environment and the driver's physical state in real time using data obtained from three types of sources: the in-vehicle sensing system, the road infrastructure and other 'intelligent' cars.

For example, I-WAY developed or adapted, among other things, in-car cameras, grip and electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors on the steering wheel, and even eye- and face-scanning technologies which combine with the ECG to build a picture of the driver's stress levels, and possible fatigue.

'No special medical equipment was used for biosignal acquisition,' notes I-WAY's coordinator, professor Dimitrios Fotiadis of the University of Ioannina, Greece. 'The ECG signal was acquired using two conducting areas wrapped around the steering wheel and connected to the analogue inputs of the computer. After that, everything was processed at the software level.'

Situation assessment

Sensors and communications systems used by roadside traffic control centres to track road conditions can also relay important information to passing motorists. If an individual vehicle encounters external hazards, such as lane closures, traffic jams or a cow on the road, it can broadcast the information to vehicles in the vicinity.

I-WAY has pulled all these elements together into what the partners call its 'situation assessment software' which is primarily intended for highway driving to anticipate hazardous situations and help prevent accidents where possible.

I-WAY's 'situation assessment' fuses data coming in directly from the vehicle's sensing equipment with data communicated by the community of vehicles in the vicinity to give a better picture of the driving situation.

The MedLab unit of the University of Ioannina is continuing research on the driver status monitoring and situation assessment side. 'Our team has put a lot of effort into these two topics during the project and we're now looking for new investment opportunities in the automotive and IT industry,' says Prof. Fotiadis.

The specialised 'stack computer' which runs the assessment software is considered by the research team to be one of the project's early successes. It was put on the market even before the project ended in 2009 and, according to the partners, performed well commercially. Project partner Eurotech France has already sold more than 3 000 units and sales are expected to grow. The stack computers have been deployed in various configurations, including embedded in train controllers, French fighter jets (Mirage 2000), robotics and fuel measurement systems.

On the market

Another market success coming out of I-WAY is a complete speech package for in-car telematics developed by Loquendo. It is one of the company's best-selling products and can be found in millions of dashboards around the world. This interface solution was deployed in the I-WAY project to improve safety by giving drivers eyes-free and hands-free voice control.

Meanwhile, project partner OHB-Teledata is extending its work on C2C and C2I communications, while TWT GmbH is exploring collaborations in the automotive industry to exploit knowledge in sensor fusion, data management for decision-support systems and the integration of advanced automotive IT components gained through their participation in the I-WAY project.

The group GTI of the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (GTI-UPM) is looking for investment and/or partners for their work in video-based advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Lane tracking, road modelling, other vehicle localisation, and lane invasion and collision avoidance systems are among the software tools developed by GTI-UPM.

Fiat, the main industry partner in the project, has applied the results of I-WAY to achieving its long-term vision where man and machine work together to cope with the stress of ever-changing driving conditions and environments.

The I-WAY project received research funding under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme.

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