It turns out that it's not only British people that like to talk about the weather; so do Swedish cars. But unlike the Brits, who use the subject as a way of making small talk or breaking the ice, Volvos are getting conversational in a bid to avoid ice and to help keep other cars safe on the road.
When a communicative Volvo encounters slippery conditions thanks to black ice or freezing temperatures, it will send that information to other cars, via the cloud. Then when the next car reaches the same point on the road, the driver has already been informed via dashboard alerts and so is prepared to respond to the conditions.
The pilot test scheme, which launches Wednesday will initially involve 50 specially adapted cars and is a partnership between Volvo, the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (Statens Vegvesen).
“The pilot is one of the first practical examples of the way communication between vehicles over the mobile network enables vehicles to 'speak' to each other and with the traffic environment. This can contribute to making traffic safer,” says Erik Israelsson, Project Leader Cooperative ITS (Intelligent Transport System) at Volvo Cars. “We have 50 test cars on the roads, and next winter the fleet will grow considerably. Our aim is to make the technology available for our customers within a few years,” he adds.
The system uses the mobile phone network to send and receive data between cars and Volvo's online database which crunches the information and converts it into warnings which are tailored to the severity of the conditions. The database wil also be used to alert the authorities in terms of road maintenance — areas of the road network that need more attention or that require further winter treatment, for example.
“When the road administrator has access to information from a large number of cars, the data can be used to make winter road maintenance more efficient. The information could help to improve road safety further for all road users. This could also reduce the use of salt when not needed and minimise the environmental impact,” says Erik Israelsson.
The pilot scheme is part of Volvo's overriding research into autonomous driving systems and technology and although the current focus is on reporting changing driving conditions, car-to-car communication and car-to-infrastructure communication have a host of other possibilities.
“This is only the beginning. In the future we will have increased exchange of vital information between vehicles,” says Erik Israelsson. “There is considerable potential in this area, including safer traffic, a more comfortable drive and an improved traffic flow.”
And of course, as safety systems become more active and cars become more autonomous, the system could be ramped up so that as well as a weather warning, stability and traction control settings could also be communicated to ensure the car stays planted firmly on the road.
Testing of Audi's system is underway in Las Vegas, the northern Italian city of Verona, and in Berlin, and a market launch is currently the subject of intense analysis in the United States.