Sensor-equipped streetlamps make driving safer

Sensor-equipped streetlamps make driving safer

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

The MEC-View project is investigating how street lamps of all things can make traffic in city centres safer and give automated vehicles an overview of traffic events. This requires cameras and lidar sensors installed on the lights. Thanks to mobile radio technology, they provide vehicles in real-time with important information in real time to enable them to detect obstacles – whether they are other cars, bicycles or pedestrians.

After more than three years of development, the project is now ready to deliver its results. Partners in the project, which is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi) with 5.5 million euros, include consortium leader Bosch, Mercedes-Benz, Nokia, Osram, traffic data provider TomTom, the company IT Designers, and the universities of Duisburg-Essen and Ulm. Associated partner is the city of Ulm, where the sensors on the streetlights and the networking technology have been tested over the past three years. The knowledge gained in the project now serves to further develop vehicle technology, automated driving and mobile phone technology. In addition, the infrastructure built up can now be used in further research projects.

The safety engineers’ considerations are based on the height of the streetlights: At a height of up to six metres (about 20 feet), they tower above the traffic and thus have a much better overview of what is happening, for example, at busy intersections. This is exactly the kind of overview that automated vehicles need. Yes, the sensor systems installed in the vehicle with cameras, radar and lidar sensors enable a precise 360-degree panoramic view. However, it is not always possible to tell from the vehicle’s perspective whether a pedestrian is currently being covered by a truck, a vehicle is coming from a road that is difficult to see, or a cyclist is approaching from behind and is quickly changing lanes. “Because the vehicle itself cannot see around corners or through house walls, we use the sensors of the streetlights to extend the detection range of the vehicle sensors,” explains Rüdiger Walter Henn, head of the MEC-View project at consortium leader Bosch. The project partners have developed the corresponding hardware and software for this purpose, which processes the images and signals from the infrastructure sensors, combines them with high-resolution digital maps (HD maps) and transmits them to the vehicle via mobile radio. There, the data is merged with the vehicle’s sensor information to create an accurate picture of the situation with all relevant road users.

This sensor information is transmitted to the vehicles with low latencies. While LTE mobile communications technology with an optimised configuration was used for this purpose in the “MEC-View” project, real-time data transmission is a basic function of the new 5G communications standard. The core task of latency-optimised mobile radio is not only to transmit data via radio with virtually no delay but also to process it as close as possible to the source.

This task is performed by Mobile Edge Computing Servers (MEC servers), which are directly integrated into the mobile network. They combine the sensor data of the streetlights with that of the vehicle’s environment sensors and high-precision digital maps. From these, they generate a local environment model with all available information on the current traffic situation and transmit it to the vehicles via mobile radio. In the future, the traffic control centers of cities, for example, could be equipped with such servers in order to share the data with all road users across manufacturers.

In Ulm, the project partners have been testing the interaction of automated prototypes and infrastructure sensors in real traffic since 2018. At an intersection in the city, streetlights were equipped with the corresponding sensors. The vehicles approach the difficult to see intersection area, for example on a side road, and then cut into the main road. Thanks to the newly developed technology, the automated prototype now recognizes road users at an early stage and can adapt its driving strategy accordingly. The vehicle thus detects gaps in the traffic on the priority road in a targeted manner and threads its way seamlessly without stopping. This not only makes city traffic safer, but also smoother.

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