German industrial conglomerate Siemens has won contracts to construct some of the world’s largest intelligent transport projects which will feature autonomous vehicles and connected infrastructure
A 1,300-kilometer corridor between Rotterdam and Vienna in which vehicles and infrastructures communicate with one another; driverless subway trains in Paris, Budapest, and Riyadh; an autonomously-operating public transportation systems in Ulm, Germany – these are examples of how mobility will be networked and increasingly characterized by autonomous systems – developments that Siemens is deeply involved in.
With six lines and a total route length of 175 kilometers, Riyadh is planning the world’s largest subway project. Siemens is to supply the entire turnkey system for two driverless metro lines in the capital of Saudi Arabia.
The five-million city is looking for sustainable solutions for its local traffic problems. Because Riyadh is growing rapidly: since 1990, the population has doubled to more than five million inhabitants. Siemens equips Lines 1 and 2 of the six lines with Inspiro metro trains, the electrification and the signaling and communication systems for driverless operation.
Although the two traffic lights at a small intersection on the premises of the Siemens research center in Munich’s Neuperlach district might not look unusual, they actually point to the future of road transportation.
That’s because a small box attached to one of the traffic light masts uses a digital wireless link to communicate with passing vehicles. The box can connect to other roadside units, which, in turn, can be linked to a traffic control center.
The result is a Wi-Fi network that makes traffic disruptions or a traffic light’s current setting appear on a driver’s display in fractions of a second.
This car-to-infrastructure (Car2X) technology is scheduled to undergo testing along a 1,300-kilometer corridor that extends from Rotterdam to Vienna via Frankfurt. Among other things, drivers of appropriately equipped vehicles travelling along this route will be warned of highway construction sites. The project is designed to reduce the number of accidents and prevent traffic jams.
To create this kind of Internet of vehicles, Siemens has teamed up with the German automotive industry and a number of research institutes. The company is supplying associated software and hardware (including roadside units) so that vehicles will be able to communicate in the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. Along with traffic and warning signs, parking garages will be integrated into the Car2X system over the long run.
“This connectivity will be made possible by the transformation of information in and around the vehicle environment into digital form. This process is already far advanced,” says Daniel Hobohm, an expert at Siemens’ Intelligent Traffic Systems Group. “The resulting connectivity will, in turn, form the basis for the future of autonomous transportation.”
Toward autonomous transportation
For many years now, experts all over the world have been working on making transportation systems autonomous. Driverless subway trains from Siemens are already operating in cities such as Nuremberg, Paris, and Barcelona. And self-driving test vehicles from Google have become an everyday sight in California.
Moreover, commercial vehicle manufacturers are testing the first fully automated trucks. At the same time, the automotive industry is developing electric vehicles that can easily incorporate digital autonomous driving technologies.
For over 100 years, vehicles and the transportation infrastructure have developed largely independently of one another. The only interface between the two has been the driver. But thanks to the evolution of digital systems these two worlds are now beginning to communicate with one another.
As a result, they are on the road to being networked. Car2X is a good example of this. “Drivers will still have to process this information for the next 15 years or so. But in the long run, this task will probably be performed by autonomous systems,” predicts Hobohm. “But even if autonomous automobiles never reach the market, this development will improve traffic safety by, for instance, helping to avoid rear-end collisions.”
Driverless subways: shorter intervals, more passengers
The path to autonomously-operating systems has progressed even further in rail environments. As far back as 2002, Siemens and RWTH Aachen developed an automatically controlled freight railcar in the context of a project know as “Cargomover.”
By building on this achievement, the company has made the driverless future a reality for several subways. In 2008 Siemens supplied the city of Nuremberg with one of the world’s first computer-controlled subway trains.
Since then, additional subway trains from Siemens have begun to operate in cities such as Barcelona, Paris, and Budapest, making the company the market leader in this segment.
Moreover, a 176-kilometer subway network will be opened in a few years in Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh, which is home to around five million people.
Siemens will deliver 74 driverless Inspiro subway trains for two of the network’s six routes. The company will also supply the associated electrical systems, signaling and communications technology, as well as a centralized control unit.
Wifi-based control systems will ensure that the trains will run every 90 seconds during rush hours, so that more than 21,000 passengers can be transported per hour.
The resulting short spacing between trains will be made possible by a system that will continuously calculate the braking distance and speed of the trains as well as the shortest distance that can safely be maintained to the following train. On the basis of the route’s profile, the control system will also determine how quickly a train has to accelerate in order to consume as little energy as possible to maintain a specific distance to a preceding train.
Autonomous streetcars and buses
Although streetcars and buses are not yet as autonomous as subway trains, they, too, are evolving into intelligent and networked vehicles equipped with an array of sensor packages. These vehicles are benefiting from the development of sensors for passenger cars.
For example, Siemens and the municipal utility company of Ulm, a city of about 120,000 in southern Germany, joined forces in 2015 to equip one of the city’s streetcar lines with sensor systems from the automotive sector, including cameras, laser sensors, and radars.
“By 2020, the first streetcars will operate in Ulm fully automatically, thanks to systems from Siemens,” says Holger Last, Program Manager for Driver Assistance Systems.
Vehicles in local public transportation systems are not only becoming more independent, they are also being networked. In September 2015, Siemens conducted a test of such a system in Braunschweig, Germany. Called Rail2X, this technology can be combined with Car2X thus enabling trains, cars, and trucks to communicate with one another near railroad crossings. Siemens has also developed a system for controlling bus operations via satellite.
In a pilot project that began in 2013, the company and the city administration of Böblingen, Germany, have been testing a navigation system on a bus route. A Siemens technology called Stream (Simple Tracking Realtime Application for Managing Traffic Lights and Passenger Information), which creates a radio network among buses, traffic lights, a satellite, and a digital traffic control center, gives preference to buses at traffic lights in order to make public transportation run more smoothly and flexibly.
It also creates sequences of green lights that ensure a smooth traffic flow. Böblingen plans to use the system for its entire bus fleet as well as for five fire engines. Other cities have purchased the technology as well.
The digital networking of road traffic is thus in full swing. “The only question is whether cars and trucks will one day operate as autonomously as many subway trains are already doing today,” says Hobohm, who thinks that the likelihood of that happening is pretty high.
Sensors and communication systems that allow vehicles, the traffic infrastructure, and traffic control centers to talk with one another in real time are enabling onboard digital autopilots to take on more and more tasks. Because of this, the role of human beings in the overall mobility picture will become less and less important.
To an ever increasing extent, safety will depend on the successful networking of all road users with the traffic infrastructure.