All you need to know about Connected Vehicles and C-ITS

3D graphic of a connected intelligent transport system

Published on 26 September 2017 by Robert Drane

Cooperative Intelligent Transportation Systems (known as C-ITS and also referred to as vehicle connectivity) are on their way – and could be arriving to our roads sooner than you think.

A C-ITS involves vehicles and transport infrastructure ‘talking’ to each other by wirelessly sharing data, with the aim of improving transport safety and efficiency and also helping the environment.

With the technology fast developing, the European Commission has adopted a C-ITS strategy which "will make it possible to deploy vehicles that can talk to each other and to the infrastructure on EU roads as of 2019". Big-name vehicle manufacturers, like Volvo and Ford, are already developing and demonstrating C-ITS systems.

In the motorcycle sector, members of the European Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers (ACEM) have pledged to have at least one of their models on sale with C-ITS, either as standard or optional, by 2020.

Meanwhile,19 local authorities across the UK are working on hi-tech solutions to help cut congestion and journey time after receiving a share of £4 million in new government technology funding. In Derbyshire, for example, the project involves an early warning system designed to prevent drivers getting stuck in traffic. In Worcestershire, the money is supporting a system allowing highways personnel to more quickly deal with road incidents.


What is C-ITS?

C-ITS stands for Cooperative Intelligent Transportation System (also referred to as vehicle connectivity). Data is wirelessly shared between vehicles and infrastructure in order to improve transport safety and efficiency.

The technology allows drivers to be automatically alerted of incidents, congestion, vehicles hidden in blind spots, venerable road users or even available parking spaces. Infrastructure can adapt to current road conditions and driver-assist systems can communicate to one-another, for example within convoys or between driverless cars.

There are two forms of vehicle connectivity in a Cooperative Intelligent Transport System:

  1. Vehicle-to-infrastructure communication
  2. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication


Vehicle-to-infrastructure communication

Illustration of vehicle-to-infrastructure C-ITS communication

Vehicle-to-infrastructure communication is (as you might expect) the transfer of data between vehicles and infrastructure. Vehicles can transmit information such as speed, location and vehicle type. Meanwhile, infrastucture can alert vehicles of, for example, closed roads and available parking spaces.

The information that is fed back by vehicles – on speed, location or vehicle type – could allow infrastructure to automatically adapt road conditions to keep traffic moving. For example, if vehicles are moving slowly, a computer system will determine that there is congestion or an incident. The infrastructure itself could then automatically react to current road conditions (for example, by adjusting speed limits or closing/opening motorway lanes), further reducing congestion and benefitting the environment.

This data should also make it possible for traffic management to derive much better data about where traffic is actually going. Road designers could then use this information to better optimise roads than is currently possible.


Traffic light speed advisory

Another useful application of vehicle-to-infrastructure communication is to improve the efficiency of traffic lights. In a proposed system called Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory (GLOSA), traffic lights would broadcast information to approaching vehicles about the traffic light phase schedule. The driver would then be informed of the time when the lights will go green or an automated vehicle could calculate the optimal speed of approach.

This could save fuel, reduce congestion and the lights could even give priority to emergency vehicles. It might even be possible with just your smartphone – no additional equipment necessary!


Above: a basic GLOSA system in action


Driver notifications

Other applications of intelligent transport systems are about sending information to drivers. You could be directly alerted about roadworks or incidents ahead, before you pass any motorway information boards. Furthermore, in urban areas you could get details about nearby available parking places.


Vehicle-to-vehicle communication

C-ITS also allows connected vehicles to share data - such as their locations on the road and relative speeds. This could have a range of applications and produce many safety benefits.

Above: an example of vehicle-to-vehicle communication in action


Making vulnerable road users more visible

One such safety benefit could be at blind junctions – a C-ITS could alert drivers to any vehicles that are hidden from view. This could also work for vulnerable road users which are in a vehicle’s blind spot, such a motorcyclists and cyclists. This could work in two ways: either the two-wheeler is connected by a device on the vehicle/rider, or the infrastructure is equipped to identify vulnerable road users.


Autonomous emergency braking

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is already being fitted to some cars, and more vehicles will have it in the future. However, there have already been incidents where vehicles have run into the backs of cars fitted with AEB – vehicle connectivity could prevent this.

Anna Zee, BMF’s Technical Services Director, said: “In a full C-ITS application, I assume that a vehicle would be able to broadcast to the following vehicle that it was applying the AEB.” This would allow the vehicle behind to brake quickly too, hopefully preventing a collision.


Improving collision avoidance systems

Collision avoidance systems are also being built into many cars. However, a very real concern is that not all systems can detect motorcycles (eg the incident in Norway in 2016). As these systems become more ubiquitous in the future, riders could be in more danger than they are now.

There is a proposed cooperative implementation which requires a unit on the bike to broadcast the bike’s presence – as opposed to relying on a car’s anti-collision system to detect it. However, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to retro-fit this to all models of bikes – and not all riders will necessarily want to anyway.


Freight convoys and platooning

Another C-ITS system already being tested is platooning. Initially, this is aimed at freight vehicles, particularly on motorways.

Platooning uses vehicle connectivity to allow features such as driving closer together (which would increase the capacity of roads), braking simultaneously and maintaining a constant speed (thereby reducing emissions and increasing fuel efficiency).

Platooning has already been successfully demonstrated abroad, and will soon be coming to the UK. Once systems have been developed and implemented for freight vehicles, the technology could potentially be opened up to autonomous cars, connect cars and other vehicles.

Above: Volvo demonstrates platooning technology



C-ITS and the future

C-ITS clearly has huge implications for road users, including motorcycles and motorcyclists. It will almost certainly bring a huge number of beneficial features for all road users but, as with any new technology, there are a number of concerns that need to be addressed before it becomes mainstream.

For example, ACEM (which represents the motorcycle industry in Europe) sees C-ITS as an integral to its strategy to improve road safety for motorcyclists across Europe. Back in 2014, it committed the sector to research into eCall – a technology that automatically calls the emergency services after a serious crash – for motorbikes, which are disproportionately affected by road accidents.

A European trial in 2011 found eCall enabled emergency services to attend incidents 40-50% faster, with estimates that the system could save, 2,500 lives a year. It will become mandatory for all new cars in the European Union from April 2018 and BMW Motorrad, an ACEM member, has become the first manufacturer to offer an eCall for its motorbikes as an ex-works option.

BMW Motorrad is also a founding member, along with Honda and Yamaha, of the Connected Motorcycle Consortium (CMC), set up in 2015 to support the development of C-ITS specifically for powered two-wheelers.

In a June 2017 presentation to the ITS European Congress, the CMC pointed out that factors such as lack of a cabin, limited space generally, the influence of the rider and exposure to weather meant car solutions were inappropriate for bikes and that bespoke C-ITS technology was needed. It cited the example of a car’s C-ITS being alerted to a traffic jam by triggers including low speed experienced by at least five other vehicles, all heading in the same direction, within a specific number of metres.

But if a motorbike able to ride through the stalled vehicles was equipped with the same technology, it would send the wrong trigger signal, effectively cancelling the traffic jam alert.

Three motorcyclists on a road 


Will C-ITS bring new challenges for motorcyclists?

While there are huge positives around C-ITS, there are a number of concerns for motorcyclists that need to be addressed before it becomes mainstream.

  • It is vital that all C-ITS systems are tested with motorcycles – in every scenario we can think of. It seems that those who design the systems don’t always remember to test with motorcycles in mind.

  • How do these systems communicate with the rider? A C-ITS equipped car could use built-in speakers to deliver warning messages, but you’re going to need a speaker in your helmet if you’re on a bike. Additionally, if there’s technology that integrates with your helmet or clothes, you won’t want to replace all your riding gear if you buy a bike from a different manufacturer.

  • With the huge amount of data that will be available to C-ITS systems, there are issues around whether gathering such data breaches people’s privacy. To what extent should traffic management know where you are travelling to?

  • Finally, as with any driver assist technology, there is the concern that many drivers could become reliant on such systems. What happens when they encounter a vehicle which doesn’t have connectivity?

A widespread rollout of C-ITS and driverless cars may be years away yet, but it is clear that a revolution in transport technology is on the not-so-distant horizon. Both are already being tested on our roads – it’s our responsibility to make sure they bring benefits rather than dangers, to motorcyclists.

You can join the BMF and help us protect the rights of motorcyclists for just £28 a year. Find out more here.  

Read more: How will driverless cars affect motorcyclists?

A Harley-Davidson rider approaches a corner