The road to intelligent vehicles took a small but significant step today, with a fleet of cars taking part in a real-world ‘intelligent vehicle’ testing programme around Frankfurt/Main in Germany.

This real-world research forms part of Safe Intelligent Mobility – Testfield Germany (simTD) a four-year practical field test of the inherent potential of intelligent communication systems to improve road safety and mobility.

The consortium involves representatives from the likes of Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, Opel, Volkswagen, Bosch, Continental, Deutsche Telekom, regional infrastructure operators and German research institutions (Technische Universität München und Berlin, Universität Würzburg, Fraunhofer).

The fleet of 120 cars in the research project will test the latest car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications, and there are hopes that roads will become safer as a result of removing human error from the equation. So what’s being tested? Well, for example:

  • Electronic brake lights: This delivers a message from the lead vehicle to a following vehicle if an emergency braking procedure is carried out, even if the incident occurs out-of-sight, for example around a bend in the road
  • Public traffic management: Providing exact traffic prognosis based on available information, thus easing congestion
  • Obstacle warning system: Enabling vehicles to inform other road users of the presence, position and type of potentially hazardous obstacles on the road
  • Traffic sign assistant: This remains in continuous contact with traffic management centres to access up-to-date information on variable speed limits, temporary restrictions and diversions; as well as providing details of current and approaching permanent regulations, such as fixed speed limits and right of way

Back in February, we reported that the Ford B-MAX was set to be the first ever car to launch at Mobile World Congress.

The Next Web was in attendance for the launch,with the company’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Paul Mascarenas, and Ford’s Executive Chairman Bill Ford (great grandson of original founder Henry Ford), unveiling the B-MAX for the European market. The main appeal to TNW? Well, its voice-activated in-car connectivity system Sync, which has already been rolled out in more than four million cars across the US since 2007. Think of it as Siri for your car.

Here’s our interview with Mascarenas:

As Bill Ford noted during his keynote at MWC, the automotive and telecom industries are at a crossroads. “Both the automotive and the telecom industries are at a historic crossroads,” he said. “It also happens that helping define the future of mobility is a great personal passion of mine. One hundred years ago, the automobile redefined personal mobility. Today, portable communication devices are redefining personal mobility. And I believe that in the future, we will redefine personal mobility together.”

Ford says it’s contributing twenty specially equipped Ford S-MAX’s to the fleet of 120 in this project.

“Car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications represent the next major advancements in vehicle safety,” says Paul Mascarenas, CTO and and vice president, Ford Research and Innovation. “Ford is committed to further real-world testing here and around the world with the goal of implementation in the foreseeable future.”

Though no specific reference is made to it, this all feeds in rather nicely to the concept of the Internet of Things, a term which refers to the idea that any physical object could have a connection to the Internet. This could be secondhand objects on shelves that tell you their full history, or even park benches that tell you from afar if there’s a spot free to eat your lunch.

Engineers from Ford’s European Research Centre in Aachen, Germany and simTD research project partners so far have tested the technologies in a controlled environment. But now it’s being trialed on public roads in and around Frankfurt in real-world driving conditions, this will be the real test.

The funding for the simTD project is approximately €53 million, of which €30 million of direct project promotional support has been provided by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology together with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

“The vehicles will cover thousands of kilometres in test drives and evaluations to gather valuable research data from every-day driving scenarios,” adds Christian Ress, technical expert, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.