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How Mercedes Benz is Keeping Drivers Safe Using ‘Car-to-X' Communication Technology

How Mercedes Benz is Keeping Drivers Safe Using ‘Car-to-X' Communication Technology

Author: Eric Walz   

A major focus of German automaker Dailmer AG throughout its history is the automaker's commitment to the safety of passengers. For example, Mercedes Benz was the first automaker to offer an electronic four-wheel ABS system developed by Bosch as an option in 1978, way ahead of other automakers. ABS brakes are now required on all new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S.

Over the years, new innovative safety systems have been developed for the auto industry, including adaptive cruise control (ACC), automatic emergency braking (AEB) and rear backup cameras, all of which are common on today's vehicles. 

However, one of the more recent technologies to emerge for passenger cars is vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) communications. The technology is being developed along with the rollout of 5G cellular networks, which allows for low-latency V2X communications over 5G networks. 

According to Dr. Christian Weiss, former Mercedes-Benz Development Car-to-X communication chief, Car-to-X communication is the "radio based exchange of information between vehicles, as well as between vehicles and traffic infrastructure." 

V2X or V2V communications allows vehicles to "talk" to each other over cellular networks, as well as with traffic lights and other road sensors. Since 2013, Mercedes Benz has offered its "Car-to-X'' communications technology as an option on some models.

V2X communications make the driver aware ahead of time of any road hazards that they may encounter along their route by receiving it from another vehicle, even those traveling in the opposite direction. Once a hazard is identified, an alert can be sent out to all nearby vehicles capable of receiving the message.

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V2X Technology is Now Standard on Mercedes Benz E-Class Vehicles

Beginning in 2017, all Mercedes-Benz E-Class models have come standard with the automaker's Car-to-X Communication technology. The feature is now showing up in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles, including in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan. 

In the new Mercedes Benz E-Class, when the driver approaches a hazardous area there is an audible (voice) and visual warning on the dash. This allows the driver enough time to prepare for the situation by adjusting their driving habits, including slowing down. 

A driver can also send a warning to other vehicles manually, the same way the popular navigation app Waze prompts users to report accidents and disabled vehicles along their route. 

The V2X safety network originates from a simple principle, according to Mercedes Benz, which is that "every vehicle with Car-to-X technology can simultaneously and autonomously receive and send warnings."

Car-to-X Communication can also network with smart city traffic infrastructure, such as traffic lights and roadside sensors, helping to keep traffic flowing more efficiently.

The technology is considered an important precursor before fully-autonomous vehicles can be deployed on public roads.

An important benefit of the Mercedes Benz V2X system is that it can collect information from points beyond the driver's field of vision, such as around a corner. 

Every Mercedes Benz vehicle equipped with Car-to-X Communication can receive alerts, as well as transmit warnings to other vehicles. Mercedes Benz hopes the technology will become universal, meaning that vehicles from different automakers can send and receive alerts to each other.

V2X Technology is Supported by EU Countries

In June 2019, in cooperation with mapping and location services companies HERE Technologies and Tom Tom, the transport authorities in six European countries and automakers Daimler, BMW, Ford and Volvo are testing how road information can be passed on using Car-to-X technology. The test phase is scheduled to last for one year, starting in the Netherlands.

"Car-to-X communication has the potential to significantly improve safety on the roads. With this project we are raising previous approaches to a new level: For the first time we have numerous highly capable and effective partners on board, so that warning messages can reach a large number of road users practically in real time. This can save lives," said Sajjad Khan, Executive Vice President, Member of Divisional Board, Mercedes-Benz, Connected, Autonomous, Shared & Services, and Electric (CASE), when the pilot was announced last year.

The focus of the pilot is in line with EU goals as part of the "Safety Related Traffic Information" (SRTI) discussion which began in 2013. With this initiative, the project partners are supporting the EU Commission in its efforts to promote the development of networked and intelligent transport systems. The goal is to substantially reduce the number of fatalities and severe injuries in Europe by 2050.

The transport ministries in Germany, Spain, Finland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden are supporting the project. 

For drivers concerned about data privacy, the entire flow of data is anonymized. During the pilot project, data flows within a closed ecosystem, which only the project partners have access to. 

Daimler said that no customer data is collected from its test fleet. The Mercedes-Benz vehicles involved in the pilot send all their data in anonymized form. Each message only contains information about the incident along with a timestamp.

V2X Technology for First Responders

This same type of V2X technology is also being developed for emergency vehicles by Chicago, Illinois startup HAAS Alert. The company refers to it as "Responder-to Vehicle" (R2V) communications. It provides warnings to nearby vehicles that an ambulance, police or fire vehicle is approaching. The alerts provide drivers with adequate time to pull over, yield or avoid the area entirely. 

HAAS Alert is working with first responders in the city of Grand Rapids on a pilot program in collaborating with the city's fire department. The alerts are automatically transmitted whenever an emergency vehicle's lights or sirens are activated by a transponder installed on the firetruck. 

The notifications are delivered through the Waze navigation app to motorists in proximity to the emergency vehicles. Drivers are notified via Waze that an emergency vehicle is approaching, and from what direction, so they can yield if its behind them or approaching a signaled intersection ahead. With enough warning tiem, drivers can also avoid the area entirely by rerouting. 

Just like the Mercedes Benz Car-to-X Communication system, the HAAS Alert technology is designed so drivers have ample time to yield to the emergency vehicles, allowing first responders to arrive at an incident quicker and safer.

HASS Alert successfully completed its pilot in Grand Rapids and expanded its service to about 100 new cities, the company said.

Mercedes Benz plans to seek cooperation from other vehicle manufacturers to advance V2X and V2V communications. The automaker believes that Car-to-X Communication will be more effective if many more cars are on the network.

The ultimate goal is to enhance safety and traffic flow more efficiently for all road users.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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