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Audi and its Partners Demonstrate C-V2X Connected Vehicle Technology to Increase Safety Around School Buses

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【Summary】Audi of America and partners, Qualcomm, Applied Information, Commsignia, bus manufacturer Blue Bird, and others have announced the completion of a cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) deployment in Alpharetta, Georgia, designed to alert drivers to nearby school buses. The C- V2X technology can alert a driver when they’re entering an active school zone or approaching a school bus to reduce risks for children and other road users.

Eric Walz    May 20, 2021 12:15 PM PT
Audi and its Partners Demonstrate C-V2X Connected Vehicle Technology to Increase Safety Around School Buses

Before the pandemic hit, millions of school-age children boarded familiar yellow school buses each day in neighborhoods across America or the daily trip to and from school. But by September, this routine will likely resume as normal.

The frequent stops that school buses make along with the presence of children however poses an additional safety risk for drivers, esepcially when students are getting on or off the bus. In addition, the big yellow buses often make it more difficult to see children that are crossing the street near bus stops.

To help address these issues, Audi of America and partners, including Qualcomm, Applied Information, Commsignia, bus manufacturer Blue Bird, Fulton Co. School System, the City of Alpharetta, Georgia and Temple, Inc., have announced the completion of a cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) deployment designed to alert drivers to nearby school buses and lay the groundwork for integrating the communications technology into future Audi vehicles.

The project is part of the growing communications trend which includes vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology, where cars can communicate with nearby infrastructure and to each other.

The C- V2X technology can alert a driver when they're entering an active school zone or approaching a school bus to reduce risks for children and other vulnerable road users. For the tests in Georgia, the warnings were sent right to the Audi vehicle's dashboard in real time over a cellular network.

"This is really important, because for now, the school children are the worst affected vulnerable road user category, with almost 25,000 injuries and 100 fatalities a year," said Anupam Malhotra, Sr Director of Connected Services at Audi North America.

The deployment in Georgia used C-V2X-based solutions developed by Audi's partner Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and Commsignia, a developer of connected vehicle technology for the auto industry. 

For the C-V2X tests, roadside units (RSUs), were mounted in flashing speed limit signs near school zones that warn drivers to slow down and use caution.In addition, an 2021 Audi e-tron Sportback electric SUV and a Blue Bird school bus were also equipped with Qualcomm hardware and Commsignia's C-V2X-based solutions for the tests.

The RSUs are used to send a low-latency signal to the connected Audi e-tron, which alerts the driver with a visual warning on the dashboard and audible signal to slow down, even before the driver is able to see the bus. 

For the bus driver, whenever they extend the stop arm at a bus stop, it can send an alert to oncoming traffic that children may be entering or exiting the bus. The connected technology is well suited for areas with limited visibility, such as curvy or hilly roads.

According to Audi, stop-arm violations when a car drives past a stopped school bus illegally is one of the most significant dangers to children and other vulnerable road users around school buses with an estimated 17 million stop-arm violations in the U.S. alone in 2019.

The partners are currently fine-tuning the technology on closed courses at the Infrastructure-Automotive Testing Laboratory (iATL) facility in Alpharetta, GA and with buses and connected road signs in real-world traffic conditions in the city.

The initial deployment in Alpharetta, Georgia, is where Applied Information is developing next-generation communications technology with connected infrastructure throughout its 78.5-square-mile testing zone, which includes more than 130 connected traffic signals. 

The partners tested the C-V2X communications technology using both LTE and ultra-fast 5G networks with the Fulton County School System, one of Georgia's largest school districts. The school district operates 786 school buses, making it the largest bus fleet operator in the state of Georgia, so the potential safety benefits for utilizing the technology are significant.

The ability to realize the potential safety benefits of C-V2X technology became possible last year after a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling in Nov 2020 in which it agreed to allocate a portion of the 5.9 GHz cellular band for C-V2X applications for the first time.

The decision paved the way for automakers to deploy connectivity technology that allows vehicles to communicate with other nearby vehicles, including school buses for the tests in Georgia.

Vehicles equipped with connected technology, such as the Blue Bird school bus used in this deployment, demonstrate how vehicles can communicate with road signs and traffic-control devices in the future. It also provides opportunities for use in different public vehicles, such as buses, emergency vehicles, and ambulances.

Using algorithms developed by Audi and the Volkswagen Group Innovation and Engineering Center Silicon Valley, technical teams are able to evaluate optimal warning times and distances for the C-V2X technology to function safely and augment the driving experience. 

Using direct V2V or C-V2X communication, a nearby vehicle is able to pick up a basic safety message every 100 milliseconds, taking topography, time of day for school zones and indirect cell tower communications into consideration as well.

This technology can also supplement vehicle cameras and sensors such as lidar and radar to read the road, allowing a future where autonomous vehicles will no longer have to rely on visible vehicles and road markings for safe navigation.

Audi is at the forefront of connected vehicle technology. In 2020, Audi was the world's first automaker to network its series-production models with city traffic lights in the city of Dusseldorf, Germany using vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) technology. 

Audi's Traffic Light Information service, which allows its vehicles to communicate directly with traffic signals. Audi drivers in Düsseldorf are able to see information from around 150 traffic lights right on the vehicle's dashboard, increasing their chance of catching what's known as a "green wave" to speed their trip and avoid getting stuck at red lights.

Other companies are working on similar technology for emergency vehicles, including Chicago-based mobility startup HAAS Alert.

HAAS Alert developed an emergency alert system it calls the "HAAS Alert Safety Cloud" that sends warnings directly to nearby vehicles via the infotainment system when emergency vehicles,including fire trucks, ambulances or police cars  are nearby or actively responding to a scene. It can also send the alerts to a smartphone.

The alerts are designed to give drivers more advance notice when emergency vehicles respond to a scene. The alerts work even if the emergency vehicles are stopped, so drivers can be made aware of their location as well as the location of an incident, so they can avoid the area.

Audi, Qualcomm and its other partners in the Georgia pilot see significant opportunities to deploy C-V2X systems nationwide in the future to increase road safety.

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