Telematics: When it snows

Autonomous vehicles being tested in bad weather conditions

Integrating road weather guidance in vehicle telematics is key to safety and productivity, says Glen Denny, president of Baron Services’ enterprise division

Delivery of better weather guidance to drivers is essential, especially real-time updates on the elements drivers face on the roads. These data enable pre-planning of employee schedules, supply chains and assets that could be in jeopardy when there are dangerous road or weather conditions.

New technology is available that can easily integrate weather data into next generation vehicle telematics platforms, including navigation, routing and planning software, mobile apps, and other in-vehicle deployments. Specific weather data can also be integrated with smart vehicle safety features as part of the development of autonomous vehicles.

 

Demand

Telematics platforms are developed by automotive manufacturers and service providers such as manufacturers of navigation and in-car mapping systems. While a primary concern of trucking, shipping and insurance markets, weather information is also of interest to other public safety organisations, including schools, hospitals, departments of transportation and large employers. In short, anyone with assets on the road benefits from high quality localised weather condition information.

Consumers in general recognise the importance of weather data for their connected vehicles. While a recent study of 14,000 car owners showed that map apps are the number one choice for those with connected cars, 49 per cent of survey participants cited weather apps as the second most important type of vehicle app. Being informed about the weather helps people plan ahead and feel prepared, even scheduling work days based on predicted conditions.

Many drivers rely on current conditions or the forecast of bad roads from local television weather reporters. But when driving is involved, both businesses and consumers need more than just basic weather information such as the chance of rain or the day’s high. Drivers need guidance regarding how the weather will affect them moment to moment in transit. After all, weather is the second largest cause of non-recurring congestion and accounts for a quarter of all delays.

According to the US Federal Highway Administration, nearly a billion hours are lost each year due to weather-related delays. Perhaps more importantly, weather can have a significant impact on people’s lives and those of friends and family.

Last year, 7000 people were killed and more than 800,000 people were injured on US roads as a direct result of adverse weather conditions. One of the latest examples took place in April 2017 when eight people died in rain-soaked Houston after they drove into floodwaters or were caught inside their vehicles during a flash flood.

Even with the advent of satellite radio and in-car apps, delivery of weather guidance to drivers hasn’t changed much since the first radio was installed in a vehicle 94 years ago. Drivers get very little actionable weather information, with the exception of the radio presenter providing occasional guidance during breaking weather events. There is definitely room for significant improvement in terms of providing real-time updates on weather affecting driving conditions.

 

Planning

Road weather has been a part of vehicle telematics platforms for some time. For example, nearly a decade ago, the industry saw the introduction of roadway weather information that is focused on identifying location-specific conditions based on a vehicle’s current location. A version of this technology has been adapted for use in on-board entertainment or navigation systems in more than 30 automotive makes and models.

The basic information this kind of road weather technology typically features includes forecasts with watches and audible alerts that let drivers get the information without having to take their eyes off the road to view a display. Similar weather systems have been developed for use in several major automotive manufacturers’ vehicles.

As broadband and cellular service became more widely available, interest began to move from the one-way data streams to two-way, connected car applications. The proliferation of OEMs that are including 3G, 4G and proposed 5G wireless mobile technology services in vehicles only increases the availability of road weather safety features.

While improved data pathways are available now, vehicle designers are still trying to determine the best way to interface with newer navigation systems. Interest is high in providing drivers with information on what road conditions would be several days from now, or a kilometre ahead of them.

New telematics technology has emerged recently to meet this need, building off of existing weather telematics technology. These platforms use weather archives and offer real-time and archived traffic incident data. These technologies also typically include accurate forecasting of conditions that allow planning to avoid bad roads multiple days in advance. For example, one specific telematics technology has 72-hour forecast conditions and 0.8km resolution, which covers all atmospheric threats that affect vehicles, including winds, hail and heavy rain, as well as road surface conditions such as ice, snow and ponding.

Telematics also makes use of a land surface weather models that analyse conditions from at and below the surface, taking into consideration the surface type. These models also show temperature changes to provide information on whether the temperatures are warming up or cooling down such that ice might be forming.

The minute-by-minute updates enabled by this technology provide drivers with intelligence on what is down the road and what they are going to encounter. Availability of more pre-emptive data in advance will enable drivers to plan better and ultimately improve productivity. For example, if black ice is causing accidents and delays ahead, the driver can be alerted to its exact location and provided alternative routing.

Some of the newest telematics technologies feature easy access to their APIs allowing developers to integrate the service easily into navigation, routing and planning software, mobile apps, and in-vehicle deployments.

In the future, there will likely be multiple delivery methods for weather telematics based on the vehicle’s price range. These will range from 4G systems, one-way narrow pipelines into a vehicle to two-way internet connected data connections. Wherever there is connectivity or radio broadcast, there will be a pathway for weather telematics.

 

Autonomy

In addition to providing access to weather data for driving planning purposes, a robust weather telematics platform has a major role to play in the future of autonomous and/or smart vehicles. For example, the following smart-vehicle features are made safer with high-resolution weather data:

 

  • • Lane-keep assist: In the lane-keep assist function, the side-view cameras used to detect lanes are rendered useless when roads are snow covered. Weather telematics can provide data to warn the driver and disengage the feature before entering snow-covered roads.
  • • Electronic stability control: ESC works great in slippery wet or icy conditions, but in heavy snow where vehicles get stuck the ESC system can make it very difficult to drive or get the vehicle out of deep snow. Weather telematics can alert drivers of heavy snow-covered roads and turn-off traction control in those conditions.
  • • Adaptive cruise control: During heavy precipitation, radars used to detect traffic just ahead or behind the car can suffer signal loss or attenuation, rendering the system nearly useless. Telematics data can be used to warn the driver of heavy precipitation just ahead so the ACC will disengage. Data on current road conditions can also be used to adjust the distance between cars and speed.
  • • Collision warning system: Radar used to sense objects just ahead is rendered nearly useless during heavy precipitation. Telematics data can be used to warn the driver of heavy precipitation and the CWS will disengage. The data can also be used to adjust the CWS timing based on current road conditions.

 

Conclusion

Technology is available that constantly analyses all roadway conditions in the continental USA and provides location specific information and conditions. This technology can be easily integrated into a variety of telematics platforms to improve driver response time and increase safety. With the technology, drivers can keep their eyes on the road while receiving critical information on approaching conditions.

Glen Denny is president of Baron Services’ enterprise division

www.baronweather.com

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