Vehicle-to-vehicle communications are a fundamental pillar of autonomous, self-driving cars. Once vehicles can exchange data with each other and the greater driving infrastructure, they'll be able to "see" and adapt to driving obstacles more completely, preventing accidents and delivering more efficient driving. Mercedes plans to be the first automaker to bring a Car-to-X vehicle-to-vehicle communications system to market.
When fully equipped with the latest technologies on offer, modern cars can already do much of the driving themselves. They can accelerate, maintain following distance and brake for traffic. They can help the driver maintain lanes. They can monitor hazards and obstacles such as pedestrians, rear cross traffic and blind spots. They do all these advanced activities with the help of onboard camera, sensor, laser and radar systems.
Onboard sensors have been able to do amazing things, but they can only see so far. For instance, if traffic is backed up just around a blind corner, an adaptive cruise control system may not be able to sense it in time to slow down to a stop.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communications will serve to expand vehicles' monitoring and autonomous driving capabilities, gaining a more comprehensive picture of surrounding road conditions like traffic and accidents. Being able to gather and send information about driving conditions will enable cars to analyze, adapt and navigate independently within road systems. Such communications can also make roadways more efficient, for instance transmitting real-time traffic pattern data with traffic lights.
"With Car-to-X communication we have made a base technology ready for the market which in the future will enable a new generation of driver assistance systems to be developed," explains Prof. Dr. Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. "Through the intelligent fusion of sensor data, we are able to obtain an extremely precise picture of the vehicles surrounding including areas further away from the vehicle – which also helps us with the further development of our autonomous driving functions."
To start, Mercedes will offer Car-to-X as a combination of its Drive Kit Plus and a Digital DriveStyle app installed on the driver's smartphone. Mercedes says that this approach will allow it to deploy the first generation of the technology more quickly, which will also help in gathering real world feedback and developing the technology.
When equipped with Car-to-X, the Mercedes vehicle is both a receiver and transmitter of data. It can gather information from other nearby Car-to-X-equipped cars and compatible broadcast systems. For instance, an emergency response vehicle involved in accident response could send information about the location of the accident and applicable road closures. Other examples include alerts about bad weather, animals on the road, wrong-way drivers and potholes.
Once the driver sees these notifications on his infotainment display, he can react accordingly, slowing down, taking a different route, etc. For now, the system still relies on the driver to react, but it's easy to see how it could be used to power autonomous vehicle reactions in the future.
A Car-to-X-equipped vehicle can also serve as the initiation point for notifications. It can detect and transmit some warnings automatically and includes a push-button notification system so that the driver or passenger can warn other cars of hazards.
While being the first to market gives Mercedes bragging rights, it also means that Car-to-X technology will be very limited, as only other drivers of Mercedes vehicles equipped with the technology will be using it. To help deploy it faster, Driver Kit Plus hardware will be offered on both new vehicles and as an aftermarket option for older Mercedes models. Mercedes is also working with other auto manufacturers toward future car-to-car systems that allow vehicles of all makes and models to communicate. Along with automakers like Audi, BMW and Volvo, Daimler/Mercedes is part of the Car 2 Car Communications Consortium.
Mercedes will launch the Car-to-X hardware before the end of the year but did not announce a more specific date, market, price or launch model(s).
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