June 14, 2010
Predicting the Road Ahead
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Predicting the Road Ahead

By Susan Smith

Vice president marketing for Intermap Kevin Thomas talked with GISWeekly about the company's latest announcement of 3D road geometry selected for the University of Stuttgart's interdisciplinary research project VALIDATE - effective immediately.

According to the press release, as part of the Germany federal government's high-tech strategy and IKT2020 research program, the University of Stuttgart initiated its VALIDATE research project in July 2008 with the primary focus of reducing vehicular CO2 emissions. The 3.7 million euro project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) through June 2011 - enabling the design of a powerful research platform that drives the analysis of benefits associated with future electronic control and assistance systems for motor vehicles, including powertrain and driver assistance systems that enable the reduction of CO2 emissions.

The cornerstone of the VALIDATE project, in which several departments of the University of Stuttgart are participating, consists of building a driving simulator that will help develop intelligent driver assistance systems to increase fuel efficiencies and reduce CO2 emissions. The driving simulator is planned to be taken into operation in early 2011.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Hans-Christian Reuss (Director Chair of Automotive Mechatronic), University of Stuttgart said, “A driving simulator is a safe and economical way to test new systems in a virtual environment using actual drivers. In particular, this research will focus on assistance systems that can create an indirect reduction in fuel consumption by influencing driving style. We are very pleased to be leveraging such good road coverage and accuracy in the form of Intermap 3D road data. This will certainly help us achieve useful results.”

Stuttgart University's work parallels work Intermap has done in the U.S. with Auburn University and Clemson. In Europe the emphasis is on reducing CO2 emissions whereas in the U.S. the focus is on fuel performance improvements, which Thomas said are in essence kind of similar. “If you can reduce your CO2 you're generally increasing your fuel performance and here if you increase fuel performance you generally reduce your CO2, said Thomas.

“In Europe when you look at stickers on the windows of cars, the bigger number isn't the liters per kilometer or the miles per gallon, it is the CO2 emission. Across the European Union the automakers are being mandated to reduce their fleets' CO2 output over the coming years.”

Intermap's 3D Roads product creates vectorized lines of all the roads in order to give the car greater intelligence. “If the car knows the road ahead then it can start better managing the power that's inside of the vehicle, which especially applies in hybrid electric and full electric cars,” Thomas said.

In a hybrid vehicle there are two reservoirs of energy - the battery and fuel. If the driver comes up a grade and then goes downhill, with 3D Roads data, the vehicle knows the destination and about the grade and the downhill. At the top of the grade there should be no battery juice left, but the vehicle knows it can recharge on the backside of the hill. At the top of the hill there is still half battery power left. With a full electric system, it is easier to manage the range because the vehicle will know the distance it can travel on a certain amount of battery life.

The product lifecycle for the auto industry to incorporate technology into vehicles is about four to five years. With Auburn, Clemson and Stuttgart University in Germany the 3D road product is put into their simulators, then advanced simulations for CO2 emission reduction are run.

3D Roads employs a NextMap digital elevation model (DEM) using both aerial imagery and Intermap's own imagery and draws lines on every single road. The lines are put on an accurate DEM in both the horizontal and vertical position, it allows the navigational systems of the car to predict and know what is happening on the road ahead. Formats including curve radii, beginning and ending of curves, centerline slope, beginning and ending of hills, inflection points, and splines and clothoids.

“It's really a map for the car, not for the driver,” explained Thomas. “The fuel performance and CO2 reduction are kind of one side and safety is the other side, they're both used in the same product.”

There is the question that this product may supplant in-dash navigation, which has not really taken off as the industry thought it might. “One school of thought is that you have all the knowledge in the nav system that's in the car, and then there's another school of thought that it is a completely separate database that can be in every automobile,” said Thomas. “A lot of the industry tends to say if we're going to introduce safety it would be nice to be able to put it in every auto not just autos that have in-dash nav. There is still a decision of where the industry wants to go. There are different people who are pursuing both paths for us. It doesn't really matter if it's an
in-dash system or it's embedded underneath the hood. The ultimate goal is safety and fuel performance and CO2 reduction no matter what the car is.”

For those customers buying a $70,000 vehicle, an in-dash navigation system for $2,000 is not that expensive, however, someone who pays $20,000 for a new car probably won't buy the in-dash nav. People who buy the expensive vehicle will not necessarily want a suction cup on their dashboard holding a Garmin. A lot of people currently use their Garmin or iPhone to navigate in the car, which is a lot cheaper. Turn-by-turn navigation which is in the Android operating system and apps in smartphones are very popular.

“Smartphones are going to replace just about everything,” said Thomas.

Thomas said that in-dash nav has been largely skipped over because one of the challenges is that it's static, thus your in-dash device will still be the same in five years. “Think about iPhones, Android systems, TomToms and Garmins; the innovation cycle in consumer electronics is every six to twelve months. In the automotive industry the innovation cycle is three to five years.”

In the auto sector in the U.S. the focus is on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards on fuel performance. These standards have not been increased since the early part of the Clinton administration. In Europe, Cap and Trade and carbon exchanges where you can buy and sell carbon credits is very much in use, whereas the U.S. market does not embrace this yet.

“If you're a clean company and you can earn credits and then you can sell those credits on the open market to a polluting company,” explained Thomas. “You start creating this monetary value of exchanging carbon credits, which gives you an incentive -- the cleaner you are the more credits you earn, the more credits you earn the more money you can make by selling money to polluters. Polluters have to figure out how can I get clean, is it going to be less expensive to buy credits or less expensive to make my factory clean? That's been in place for some time.”

3D road data for Germany is complete and Intermap is working on finishing up Western Europe for 3D Roads, and the US will follow. Intermap is also working independently with different OEMs and tier one suppliers to get the product into automobiles.

Comparable research in the U.S. at Auburn University and Clemson - one is for passenger vehicles and one is for commercial trucking has resulted in a 3 percent increase in fuel performance in trucking, which would save about a million gallons of diesel a year in the U.S. alone if every truck had it, according to Thomas. “Even at a small percentage increase it makes a huge impact,” he said.

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