A mobility cloud platform designed to improve the safety of road users is being tested for the first time on the open road in the West Midlands.
Drawing on the power of mobile and data technologies, the platform – developed by a consortium led by Vodafone, Nokia and Chordant – is the UK’s first live implementation of cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology, combining mobile technologies with in-vehicle computer systems to create mobility services for improved safety and reliability as well as allowing road operators to build greener and more sustainable transport networks.
Its aim is to provide digitally connected road users in the West Midlands with live, highly localised and targeted updates from road operators about lane closures, speed restrictions and traffic incidents. It is described as a new type of information superhighway that will ultimately connect vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and infrastructure in a seamless digital transport ecosystem.
Road authorities are also trialling the platform to control and ease traffic jams and make informed planning decisions using secure, anonymised and aggregated vehicle position data sent up to 10 times every second from users who have opted into the service. The partners say this capability could be extended for emergency services when responding to an incident, such as someone driving the wrong way on a motorway, or for breakdown recovery organisations to assist vulnerable road users.
In addition to the technology firms, the project has support from the UK Government Centre for Connected and Automated Vehicles (CCAV) and the Midlands Future Mobility (MFM) consortium. It is also being offered as a leading example of how CAM Testbed UK – the UK’s test facility for connected and automated mobility (CAM) – is enabling innovation and the development of new technologies critical to the safe mass adoption of connected and self-driving vehicles.
Vodafone has already embarked on creating an ecosystem of connected vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians across Europe and Africa, with each one acting as the “eyes and ears” of the road. This information can be used to warn others of traffic congestion, incidents and other hazards they might be heading towards.
Vodafone said more than 70% of all cars built in 2020 already have digital telematics capabilities and the operator is now working with private and public sector organisations with the objective of extending the advantages of integrating in-vehicle connected systems within the wider connected transport ecosystem.
“It’s fantastic to see vehicle-to-everything mobile technology being deployed on the open road for the first time in the UK,” commented Luke Ibbetson, head of group research and development at Vodafone. “While the system is delivered via smartphone, drivers will need to use hands-free equipment. Meanwhile, we are working with the automotive industry and road operators to have the technology integrated within vehicles and transport infrastructure to make our roads safer.”
Vodafone’s 4G and 5G networks and advanced multi-access edge computing (MEC) technology is built into the platform, allowing for real-time road information from Highways England to be displayed initially on users’ smartphones, and in the future on in-car infotainment systems. Running on Vodafone’s edge, Nokia analytics software will apply data insights to make roads safer, provide a better experience for users and enhance road infrastructure management efficiency in a way that can easily be deployed across multiple geographies.
Mike Waters, TfWM
The Vodafone platform also works with Convex, Chordant’s mobility data exchange facility, to enable dynamic data to be exchanged with road operators and their traffic systems.
“Road operators are seeking to digitally interact and exchange information with vehicles and road users,” said Ash Wheeler, senior vice-president at Chordant. “We’re delighted that, through this partnership and the services we are creating, transport authorities and vehicle manufacturers around the world will be able to test, validate and rapidly deploy standardised C-ITS [cooperative intelligent transport systems] services over existing cellular networks, improving road safety, reducing congestion and unlocking new driver experiences.”
Part of the West Midlands Combined Authority, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) has been a keen advocate of accelerating the adoption of vehicle-to-everything technology, starting with the region’s city centres and key transport hubs including Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. In September 2020, it revealed it was working with West Midlands 5G (WM5G), the organisation that delivered the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed, to support the development of new products and services to transform transport across the region.
Commenting on this latest development, Mike Waters, director of policy, strategy and innovation at TfWM, said: “We are now reaching the point where connected vehicle technology is genuinely able to start making a meaningful and very powerful difference to the big issues in transport like safety and energy efficiency. The work we have done with Convex and Vodafone is moving solutions forward not just for the West Midlands, but for the whole country, and really exemplifies the UK’s position of global excellence in this space.”