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Could Audi’s Swarm Be a Gamechanger for Traffic Safety?

Audi is using high-precision swarm data for the first time to improve its car-to-X hazard warning and response service.  

Since 2017, the German premium brand’s cars have been able to warn each other about accidents, broken-down vehicles, traffic jams, road ice, or limited visibility. To do this, the car-to-X service crunches various data to identify and issue “local hazard alerts”. These alerts can lead to interventions in other Audi vehicles that include adjustments and triggering of the electronic stabilization control (ESC), rain and light sensors, windshield wipers, and headlights, as well as emergency calls and even airbag deployments.

The new version uses a car-to-cloud application that is based on a novel procedure for estimating the coefficient of friction on the basis of the wheel slip – using signals from the suspension, such as the wheel speed and acceleration values. The technology can detect minute changes in road surface adhesion, upload the data to the cloud to be processed, and warn drivers behind of road ice (for example) in near real time. The sensor data is anonymized, both in the car itself and also in the cloud. The aggregated data is combined with metadata such as current weather information and empirical values, and then transmitted by a server hosted by NIRA Dynamics AB to a location platform by HERE Technologies. The platform then sends the warning information to those cars that are in or headed toward areas with poor conditions. Drivers see the warning in the Audi virtual cockpit or on the optional head-up display.

The number of vehicles involved is a key success factor. The greater the number of vehicles that deliver the data, the better the system can learn, analyze, and create maps, and thereby inform or warn the drivers depending on the situation. This is the basic principle of swarm data and swarm intelligence – an area in which Audi has acquired extensive knowledge over the past years. In Europe, more than 1.7 million vehicles from the Volkswagen Group will supply current data for the hazard information service in 2021, and this number will increase to more than three million in 2022. The service is available in the new models from Audi, Volkswagen, SEAT, Škoda, Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini.

According to Thomas Müller, Head of Advanced Driving Assistance Systems ADAS & Automated Driving AD at the Car.Software organization (a software company of the Volkswagen Group) the improved hazard information service is just the beginning. Using current friction coefficient maps based on this data pool, municipalities can optimize their snow clearing service in real time. Driver assist systems can precondition themselves and adjust to the condition of the road with even greater precision, and the route guidance of the navigation system can take the road conditions into account in order to offer a more accurate computation of the expected time of arrival. In the car, control of the wheel slip can enable the development of tire maintenance services, for example, by detecting the level of wear as well as the performance level of the tire.

Personal Comment:

Swarm intelligence, which refers to the behavior of agents in decentralized and self-organized systems, is an area in which connected vehicles have a lot of potential to improve traffic safety and efficiency. Vehicle sensors are limited by distance and scope, but this can be solved with swarm intelligence whereby many vehicles can contribute to sensing the environment. The specific use case that Audi and partners have worked on provides drivers with information that allows them to prepare for deteriorated driving conditions. I imagine this can be especially helpful in wet and cold climates.

Connecting vehicles in this way also have other applicable use cases beyond what is mentioned in the article. Surely, finding a parking space could also be easier if we had more connected vehicles. There is also talk, perhaps optimistically, about not needing traffic jams if all cars on the road would be connected. Wouldn’t that be nice?

But security becomes especially relevant concerning connected vehicles in this way, and in the present solution it is stated that data gets anonymized already in the vehicle. Anonymization in regards to integrity is however only part of the challenge concerning security, the other big elephant in the room is the resilience of connected vehicles to potential cyber attacks where not only personal data is at risk. ”The overall security of modern mobility services will depend on how well the industry addresses the cyber risks in and around connected cars, as well as on the strategic actions key players take today to prepare for future attacks” McKinsey & Company.

Written by Daban Rizgary,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Människa-autonomi)