Cars Communicating With Bikes Could Improve Traffic Safety

It’s about communicating via cellular

  • Audi is working on technology that lets vehicles read their surroundings and identify when bicycles are nearby.
  • The system uses mobile cellular connectivity to send and receive signals to/from nearby vehicles, pedestrians, or fixed objects such as traffic lights.
  • Federal statistics show that collisions between cars and bikes are on the rise.
Bike messenger riding bicycle inner city

Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

The escalating conflict between cars and bikes may be getting some tech help. 

Audi is partnering with other companies to develop hardware and software that lets vehicles read their surroundings and identify when bicycles are nearby, including those obstructed from a driver's view. It's based on a standard called C-V2X that uses mobile cellular connectivity to send and receive signals from a vehicle to other vehicles, pedestrians, or fixed objects such as traffic lights in its surroundings.

"The technology warns cyclists and drivers of where they are on the road and any potential collision based on sharing C-V2X data," Audi spokesperson Mark Dahncke told Lifewire in an email interview. "It is the first step to help warn the driver and the cyclist to better navigate neighborhoods and roadways."

Safer Streets?

Audi is working on the new safety tech that uses cellular technology that lets cars communicate with their surroundings. In Northern Virginia, a C-V2X program informs vehicles approaching a construction zone, alerts drivers of the work-zone speed limit when entering construction zones, and lets roadside workers know when cars are close to construction zones via a connected safety vest.

Audi also collaborated with a C-V2X system with Qualcomm Technologies and others to connect cars with school buses. In Alpharetta, Georgia, the technology identifies when children are boarding or exiting buses and shows vehicle drivers when they’re entering active school zones.

Federal regulators are helping advance C-V2X technology. In a recent FCC ruling, the agency agreed to allocate a portion of the ITS 5.9 GHz cellular band for C-V2X applications for the first time. The decision allowed C-V2X for the exchange of standardized communications between vehicles and between vehicles and infrastructure.

Audi estimates there will be 5.3 million vehicles, work zones, railway crossings, bicycles, and other devices that will be able to connect using C-V2X by 2023. By 2028, it's possible that number will increase to 61 million connected devices, including as many as 20,000 crosswalks, 60,000 school zones, 216,000 school buses, and 45 million smartphones.

And the need for such safety improvements is growing. The NHTSA reported in its most recent data that there were 846 bicycle fatalities from motor-vehicle-related accidents in 2019. That represents a 36 percent increase since 2010. Year-over-year, NHTSA reported on-road cycling injuries increased 4.3 percent to 49,000 in the US in 2019. In addition, the National Roadway Safety Strategy released by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in January 2022 notes "fatalities among pedestrians and bicyclists have been increasing faster than roadway fatalities overall in the past decade."

Future Tech

But Audi isn’t the only company working on safety improvements for cars and bikes. Robot vehicles will also be able to automatically keep an eye on their surroundings. 

Autonomous driving vehicles contain sensors that collect 2D data with color and capture rich details of the objects and LiDAR that measures the size and distance of the bicycle by sending out laser pulses. 

DeepRoute.ai has developed a car perception system to process the data captured from these sensors. The system creates a real-time 3D map around the car and can detect a few hundred meters with centimeter-level accuracy, the company claims. 

person cycling on red bicycle in street with movement

Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

"This technology is of great significance because it offers a clear and accurate understanding of the surroundings so that the autonomous driving car can implement path planning and perform driving commands," Xuan Liu, vice president of DeepRoute.ai, said in an email interview. "The vehicle will decide whether it should slow down and where to yield to the cyclist, or if it should go straight because the cyclist is riding slowly and there's enough distance to safely pass."

In the future, an Audi vehicle may use similar automated systems that avoid collisions by automatically braking or even conducting an evasive maneuver to avoid the collision altogether, Dahncke said.

"The Audi grandsphere concept provides a glimpse at our vision for what an automated experience will look like," Dahncke added. "A production version is expected to arrive as early as 2025. [However], when Level 4 automation will be introduced remains to be seen based on regulations, legal frameworks, and infrastructure."

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