|Sensing a safer future - the PReVENT project.
|One of the more ambitious plans to emerge from the European Commission in recent years is expected to result in a substantial reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured on European roads and help achieve the EU's target of a 50% reduction in accidents by 2010.
PReVENT IP (Preventive and Active Safety Applications - Integrated Project) was launched to great fanfare at the beginning of February this year and will, if things go according to plan, act as midwife and nanny to a clutch of advanced safety-related R&D sub-projects(1). With around 50 partners drawn from all all major European vehicle manufacturers as well as leading automotive technology suppliers and research institutes and a budget of just over €55m(2) , it would be hard to overstate the importance of the programme in its attempts to achieve a safer road-transport environment.
"The primary aim of PReVENT," said Peter Konhaeuser, a Senior Manager within DaimlerChrysler's Research and Technology Division and chairman of the PReVENT Co-ordination and Core Group, "is improved safety on European roads. Of course it has other objectives, including the advancement of European industry but in essence it is about promoting the development of safety applications."
Not since the days of PROMETHEUS, over 10 years ago, has there been such a concerted attempt to find technological solutions to the problem of safety on the roads. Eleven separate projects began work under the PReVENT umbrella and more are expected to join them under the 2nd Phase of the project currently being planned. From systems designed to ensure early warning of an impending collision, through those affording advanced driver assistance each one of the groups is focused on improved safety.
"But as our work gets under way," said Konhaeuser, "inevitably we find questions raising other questions. We are concentrating on the next generation of advanced driver assistance systems and trying to stay within what can be achieved over the next 4 to 5 years. One of the criticisms of PROMETHEUS was that many of its ideas were ahead of their time and as a result could not immediately be developed commercially."
There is, of course, no guarantee that the ideas generated by the PReVENT programme will not go the same way as those of its illustrious predecessor. Despite the long gestation period that preceded the launch of the current project on 1st February, the planning process is far from over. As the preparation for 2nd phase subprojects takes place, the search for further objectives and more projects continues alongside the drive to integrate the defuse strands that link the sub-projects to the core theme of safety.
"Regular meetings and workshops involving the sub-group members has been a crucial aspect of the planning and execution of PReVENT," said Achim Beutner, a research engineer of Volvo Technology in Gothenburg and the SAFELANE sub-project leader. "It is important that the different functionalities and requirements of the various projects are understood by everyone and are capable of being fully integrated with one another."
Nor is the question of integration incidental. Even if not an entirely new concept, integration is certainly the new buzz-word in the European Commission's lexicon. The lessons of DRIVE 1 and DRIVE 2, where projects were launched and funded with no clear understanding of where they would fit in the larger picture, have been learned. The new tool of the 6th Framework Programme is the IP (Integrated Project) (3). As a result there is a strong imperative at Commission level that demands close attention to the question of integration between projects undertaken with the help of public money. The policy sees its manifestation in the working practices adopted for PReVENT, the routine meetings of what Beutner calls 'cluster groups' and the banishing of the stand-alone projects that so marked the progress of the DRIVE programmes of the late 1990s.
What is perhaps more difficult to see in the timetable of the current programme is a clear end-point, a tangible benefit of immediate use and application for the motorist, what Peter Konhaeuser calls the 'killer application' that will persuade the market to invest in the production of the systems now being developed by his fellow partners.
"The programme is being politically driven by the need to achieve the EU's target of a 50% reduction in the number of accidents on European roads by 2010," said Konhaeuser. "But that, on its own will not be sufficient to persuade the market to develop our ideas. In addition to the push provided by the politicians, there needs to be a pull from the market and this will only be achieved if we can think of a killer application for the ideas we are researching and developing. At the moment there is no such application, especially for systems which are based on inter vehicle communication."
His message was reinforced by others, including Angelos Amditis of the ICCS-NTUA I-SENSE Group in Athens and the joint sub-project leader (with Dr Uwe Kaiser-Dieckhoff of Bosch) of LATERAL SAFE. Dr Amditis went to some lengths to emphasis the research nature of the project, the development process of existing technologies and the importance of appreciating the advantages to be had from fusing a number of applications in the pursuit of the goal of greater road safety.
"The aim," said Amditis, "is to develop new, more effective, more integrated and cleverer means of achieving what the current generation of stand-alone systems are trying to do. It would be unrealistic to expect a project of this nature to produce new sensor technology within the time-scale allowed to us. Our job is to develop common platforms that will make better and more mature use of existing systems and sensors. But in the end, we are a research project and it is for industry to decide when the time is right for the commercial production of these systems."
His comments raise the prospect that at least some of the sub-projects may fail to see the light of day. While highly desirable in social terms, a question mark may hang over the willingness of the buying public to pay for systems that act as an insurance, a safety-net, a long-stop in case of emergency rather than an essential aid to the routine of life. The problem is, it seems, particular acute within the heavy goods vehicle market.
"The number of heavy goods vehicles," said Volvo's Achim Beutner, "is comparatively small and there are no economies of scale when it comes to providing equipment that is not seen as being entirely necessary. In the case of SAFELANE, where we are developing an active lane keeping support system and additional functionality beyond existing lane departure warning systems, the economic pressure on hauliers and their acceptance of such systems might have to be considered as well when it comes to numbers of systems in the market."
The outlook is, however, brighter than some of these comments might suggest. Many of the ideas now being translated into commercial production, including car-to-car communications, have their roots in the PROMETHEUS project of the last decade and there is every reason to believe that demand will continue to follow availability.
"It is almost impossible to know, in advance, what drivers will want in terms of vehicle safety systems," said Peter Konhaeuser. "In-vehicle navigation and route guidance was also a research item of PROMETHEUS well before the technology was available. Now it is routinely available and a requirement in most fleet applications."
So will PReVENT deliver on its promises? Will it help to make Europe's roads and those of the rest of the world, safer? Or would the same result have been achieved anyway and at little or no cost to the public purse? The answer to the first two questions is almost certainly "yes". A huge amount of time and effort has been invested in taking this project forward and seeing to it that the subject matter of the various sub-projects dove-tail with one another. Integration has and will continue to be the watchword leading to a result which, if those involved are to be believed, is greater than the sum of its parts. New sources of power coupled with better lens and greater processing will be able to feed off a range of incoming data and result in a more comprehensive driver assistance package than is presently available. Would it have come about anyway? The economic realities of life suggest not. At least not so quickly. Without the political pressure exerted from the centre, it is doubtful whether a project such as PReVENT could have been conceived. As it is, the pace of change is being governed by the demand for a safer environment that lies beyond pure commercial interest.
(1) The following is a complete list of the sub-projects currently being undertaken under Phase 1 of PReVENT.
1. ProFusion - looking into the development of sensor fusion. Contact Olivier Aycard on firstname.lastname@example.org
2. APALACI - development of pre-crash and collision mitigation applications. Also looking at pedestrian classification identification. Contact Maurizio Miglietta at email@example.com
3. COMPOSE - dealing with collision mitigation and vulnerable road user protection systems. Contact Steffen Schiek at firstname.lastname@example.org
4. MAPS&ADAS - studying the provision of standardised interface for access to electronic maps and the provision of positioning data from various vehicle applications for advanced driver assistance systems. Contact Vincent Blervaque at email@example.com
5. Wireless Local Danger Warning - development of a system of on-board hazard detection, in-car warning management and car-to-car communications. Contact Gerhard Noecker at firstname.lastname@example.org
6. SASPENCE - examining the development of systems to ensure safe distance and safe speed. Contact Andrea Saroldi on email@example.com
7. SAFELANE - development of lane-keeping support systems. Contact Achim Beutner on firstname.lastname@example.org
8. LATERAL SAFE - looking at driver assistance for coping with safety-critical situations based on a multi-sensor platform. Contact Angelos Amditis at email@example.com
9. RESPONSE 3 - Examining the liability issues inherent in the provision of advanced driver assistance systems with a view to providing a recommended code of practice. Contact Juergen Schwarz at firstname.lastname@example.org
10. InterSafe - improvement of safety at intersections based on advanced sensors and communications systems. Contact Ulrich Lages on email@example.com
11. UseRCam - development of existing sensor technology and the fusion of sensor applications for active lateral and rear collision avoidance systems including 3D object classification. Contact Dr Peter Mengel on firstname.lastname@example.org
12. IP Liaison and Communication - IP management support, communication of results and cooperation with public authorities and related national activities. Contact Edwin Bastiaensen on e.Bastiaensen@mail.ertico.com
(2) While the total budget is in the order of €55m, funding from the EC is running at €29,800m.
(3) Other IP projects presently under way or in the planning stages include IP AIDE, IPAPROSYS, IP GST (Global System for Telematics) and STREP EASIS.