The electronics developers have focused on safety and traffic control in the Audi Roadjet Concept, as well as on driving pleasure. It features a prototype of a future generation of information-processing systems that herald in a new era in road traffic networking specifically in countries with high volumes of traffic.
At the heart of this concept is car-to-car communication, meaning the direct exchange of information within the flow of traffic. Unlike the telematics systems of the recent past, no central service is now needed to consolidate and process the information swiftly and effectively.
The progress that has been achieved in the areas of computing power and software development have made this application possible; even though they occupy very little space and consume very little energy, future systems will be capable of processing an array of data into practical, easily digested information for the driver that moreover paves the way for a very high standard of safety.
The reality of road traffic means that the car-to-car network can of course only be activated with a certain lead time. This hurdle is, however, manageable because virtually all vehicle manufacturers in Europe, the USA and Japan have agreed in parallel to develop a common standard for the hardware and software.
Applications have also been submitted to the authorities to use standard radio frequencies on an international scale, thus assuring the system's proper functioning when driving abroad.
Once all new vehicles in a market are being factory-fitted with this new technology, a functioning network of car-based transmitters will be created within a few months, at least in conurbations.
Many new areas of application can then be exploited in practice. The following three examples are intended merely as illustrations of what scope car-to-car communication offers:
Example 1 - safety. A vehicle has skidded on a slippery surface on a blind bend and is hanging half in a ditch, at right-angles to the flow of traffic. It is now unable to move unassisted. Other vehicles are swiftly approaching the obstruction but their drivers are unable to see it. With the new communication technology, the stranded vehicle will transmit a warning signal which - thanks to the network established with the vehicle's on-board navigation system - also indicates the location of the hazard. A corresponding warning simultaneously appears on the navigation screens of the approaching vehicles, indicating the location of the accident - the risk of a collision is thus substantially reduced.
Example 2 - traffic flow. Lines of vehicles are moving between sets of traffic lights on a multi-lane arterial road. The cars accelerate, only to have to brake again when the lights turn red. Such a driving style is not only fatiguing for the individual driver, but also means that thousands of litres of fuel are wasted along every kilometre of such roads in the long term, by the traffic as a whole; it furthermore significantly inflates exhaust emissions in conurbations.
Car-to-car technology means that the cars are not only able to establish a network with each other, but also pick up information from static transmitters such as the traffic lights' control systems.
The phases of each set of traffic lights can thus be transmitted, giving drivers an opportunity to anticipate more accurately how much acceleration is necessary or appropriate. The same applies to impending congestion: using data from cars further ahead, the systems can recommend what speeds drivers should adopt in order to keep the traffic flowing.
Example 3 - service. When driving through a city centre, a driver has selected the local shopping centre as the destination for the navigation system. There is a chronic shortage of parking spaces around that destination. Here too, the new technology is able to help: the mobile system uses the coordinates for the destination to link up with the parking spaces management system for the area around the destination. If a nearby vacant parking space is reported by static facilities, such as at a multi-storey car park, the navigation system can automatically take this into account and simultaneously reserve the space in that car park. The driver is guided to their destination by the shortest and most convenient route, instead of having to drive round in circles endlessly hunting for that elusive parking space.
The number of variations on these examples is almost limitless, illustrating the huge potential of the new technology in promoting safety, flexibility and efficiency as the volume of traffic on our roads increases.