The rise of safety innovations in intelligent mobility

The pursuit of vehicle safety is a key driver in the emergence of a new stage of intelligent transportation systems, involving new technologies and business opportunities. A whirlwind of changes may disrupt industry dynamics, ushering in new players and shifting the roles of established ones. Still, there are challenges that these potentially transformative new technologies will have to overcome.

In the years since Karl Benz invented the modern auto-mobile in 1885, energy and safety have emerged as two long-standing themes, central to the automotive industry.1 With respect to energy, the increasingly urgent challenge has been to reduce the impact of CO2 emissions on the environment and to ameliorate resource depletion, either by using less fuel or through alternative energy sources. We have seen the emergence of a series of “next generation” vehicles, including hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric, and fuel cell vehicles, that embody the pursuit of these goals.

However, to associate next-generation vehicles only with such energy-related innovations is to understate the developments underway with regard to mobility. Safety innovations are also an essential and perhaps equally rich avenue of development, important for obvious reasons, but increasingly with a vital role to play in the future direction of vehicles and the systems that may surround their use.

The widely acknowledged challenge for vehicle safety has long been to prevent or reduce the potential severity of casualties. The two major categories of safety-related efforts today include passive and active, with the former relatively mature both as a concept and technology. Active safety, however, is still in its infancy, with its potential emerging in the context of data acquisition and processing advances. In the future, vehicle safety will likely fuse with information communication technologies (ICT) into a system category that can be described as info-safety2—with a larger influence on shaping an information-connected mobility. Through ICT, safety technologies can have a broad impact on multiple aspects of the automotive industry, including the need to use less energy.

The pursuit of vehicle safety is one driver in the emergence of a new stage of intelligent transportation systems (ITS), involving new technologies as well as new business opportunities. Moreover, a potential whirlwind of changes may disrupt industry dynamics, ushering in new players and shifting the roles of established ones. This is not foreordained, however: There are challenges that new technologies will have to overcome before an era of transformation can unfold.

Figure 1. ICT impacting both energy efficiency and vehicle safety in mobility


Passive safety: The foundation

Passive safety, which alleviates damage in an accident, is the foundation of vehicle safety as we have come to know it, and what vehicle occupants rely on to survive an accident. The considerable advances in safety in the past 50 years have come largely from advances in passive safety, including one of the first major milestones, when Volvo in 1959 introduced the modern three-point seatbelt on its PV544.3 Passive safety includes several features engineered into a vehicle’s structure and takes many forms, among them bumpers, crumple zones, airbags, seatbelts, head restraints and shoulder harnesses. Today passive safety is no longer restricted to passenger protection and takes the safety of the vehicle’s surroundings into consideration as well. For example, modern features of passive safety include pedestrian protection systems—vehicle features redesigned to moderate the effect of impact to pedestrians in the event of a collision.

Automakers and suppliers have been responsible for the development of most passive safety features, but vehicles have also become safer due to the work of regulators and safety evaluation organizations, such as the New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP). Regulators and NCAP have influenced the direction, development, and spread of these technologies by enacting relevant laws and setting standards and new vehicle safety evaluation criteria. As a result, passive safety features with demonstrated effects can be found in cars around the world.

Yet there is room for improvement. As fatality rates drop in developed economies, automakers, suppliers, regulators, and global chapters of NCAP may put more emphasis on passive safety in emerging economies. Current safety technologies also offer room for improvement. Most recently, passive safety features have begun to become predictive so that seatbelts, airbags, and other components can react to impending accidents in more sophisticated ways. Adding this predictive element will require passive safety features to work in conjunction with active ones.

Active safety: The shield

Unlike passive safety, which is purely about containing damage, active safety is focused on sensing dangerous situations and attempting to prevent damage or injury altogether. Active safety utilizes information that can be obtained from the vehicle’s surroundings, including traffic, road configuration and condition, and nearby objects, and works together with passive safety features to mitigate damage in the event of an unavoidable collision. While passive safety is widely recognized and implemented, active safety has not yet reached that level of recognition. One of the area’s chief objectives is to eradicate human error which, in a landmark study conducted by Indiana University in 1979, accounted for 93 percent of the accidents investigated through the study.4

Safety Image 3

Active Safety in action: Forward Collision Warning

Forward Collision Warning (FCW) utilizes a sensor, usually radar or a camera, to detect objects, including vehicles on the road, and alerts drivers when there is imminent danger of a collision. By predicting collision and alerting drivers beforehand, the safety feature could potentially have a great impact on reducing accidents, since, according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report in 2001, such systems could theoretically eliminate 37–74 percent of rear-end collisions.5

The predictive capacity of active safety is a result of the use of advanced sensors, including radar, sonar radar, LIDAR (Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging), mono-camera and stereo-camera systems. These sensors come in many forms as they need to detect various circumstances. Active safety can automate necessary responses to danger by capturing information via these sensors, then routing them through an electronic control unit (ECU) to assess the situation. The system will deliver control signals to actuators such as brakes, steering systems, airbags, and seatbelts (integration with passive safety) to commit the actions required to avoid a collision.



With active safety systems able to respond to various cues and signals, there is a multitude of applications available for various driving situations and regional markets. For example, in everyday driving, rear cross-traffic alert, FCW, and automatic high beam enhance safety at the beginning, middle, and end of a journey as illustrated in figure 2. Some of the applications provide extended value beyond safety, such as comfort/convenience and energy efficiency. Adaptive cruise control, for instance, optimizes acceleration and braking during cruise control operation to avoid collisions and to provide comfort/convenience and increased energy efficiency. Furthermore, applications can be tailored for different regional market conditions. In China, parking assistance specifically takes into account local driving customs and urban landscapes, which feature many apartment buildings.6In Sweden, a unique product is under development by Volvo—a system that will detect animals to address the local problem of vehicle–animal collisions.7

Trends and positive drivers

In terms of product equipment, active safety systems are largely the domain of high-end luxury cars, although they are expected to trickle down to mainstream cars in developed economies and eventually make their way to emerging economies as well. The trend has already started with automakers such as Ford, which has introduced active safety features on lower-priced premium family sedans, such as the 2013 Ford Fusion.8

From a regional vantage, a sustainable market for active safety will require unlocking the demand in developing economies such as China or the ASEAN countries. As these markets continue to increase in importance for automakers, there may be significant advantages in promoting new technology at an early stage and then working to accelerate its spread. Chinese automakers have begun to equip home market models with active safety applications, as in the case of Geely Automobile with the 360-degree panoramic imaging system on its Gleagle GX7.9 Dr. Zhao Fuquan, executive director of Geely Automobile Holdings Limited, has said that “the Chinese market for active safety systems will continue to grow in the coming years due to rising safety expectations as well as the growing taste for luxury vehicles in the still burgeoning vehicle market.”10

In terms of market drivers, the change and evolution of regulations and NCAP, as in the case of passive safety features, are simultaneously driving the spread of existing features around the world while raising the bar with regard to capabilities. New active safety assessments such as automatic emergency braking are expected to be adopted for the 2014 Euro NCAP ratings, very likely spurring the rate at which automakers will adopt the applications and systems, and generating an increased market awareness of these systems that may increase consumer demand.11

Other factors include the endorsement of active safety features by service providers such as insurance or leasing companies. For insurance companies, active safety features can lead to reduced incidents and thus may enable them to offer lower premiums on their products. Logically, this would become an incentive for drivers to adopt active safety systems. In terms of leasing companies, some have begun to adopt active safety features on their vehicles to reduce repair costs and shorten downtime, leading to increased profits. Moreover, this endorsement by leasing companies can help familiarize users of leased cars with the benefits of the active safety systems.12

Figure 3. Active safety proliferation sequence


Player dynamics

Far more so than traditional vehicle technology, active safety systems rely heavily on high-tech electronics, including semiconductors and control unit hardware. This has resulted in a structural change in the value chain, with new entrants in the form of specialized suppliers playing a large role in the development of active safety systems. Automakers and their suppliers have traditionally been the drivers of automotive technology development, but an onslaught of advanced intelligent safety technologies have left many of them struggling to keep up with the flurry of new technologies and related skills required to integrate them. While some automakers and suppliers have responded by acquiring the specialized technologies or the suppliers that own them, others have opted to proceed through cooperation.

Meeting the challenges

Of course the technological marvels behind active safety aren’t free, and those costs can be high, driven by the abundance of driver assistance applications and the active safety systems they require. Ideally, active safety systems would possess as many applications as possible using the fewest number of hardware components, but in practice determining the best combination of sensors to equip has become extremely difficult. While automakers look to equip lower-priced vehicles with active safety features, costs must be significantly reduced for the technology to become widespread.

One approach to meeting this goal is to design and sell active safety systems with limited applications in the aftermarket. This could well allow the systems to be more affordable to users, as they would not be bundled with other less sought or perhaps otherwise unrelated features as part of an expensive option package, as they tend to be. This affordability stems from the general rule that simple systems are easier to install on vehicles.13 Furthermore, older models can be sold affordably in the aftermarket, while new vehicles tend to be equiped with the more expensive and latest technology. On a separate note, the aftermarket solutions can be flexible add-ons, suitable for installations in situations where certain vehicle models may not equip them by default. With greater affordability and equipment flexibility, aftermarket solutions seem likely to help active safety products become more widespread, especially in developing markets.

Figure 4. Stages of safety innovation


A second approach is the development of a common platform for active safety technologies. A system platform that can merge and process input from multiple sensors and handle several active safety applications in one unit may eliminate redundant hardware and thereby trim overall system costs. One way a platform could work is through obtaining and combining multiple sensor data as input for a single accurate situation assessment where signals can be sent to the appropriate vehicle actuators.14As an additional benefit, the platform will encourage new players to focus on specific application development on a common platform, resulting in lower entry barriers and better distribution of resources. Consequently, there will be room for more application development to tailor to the aforementioned diverse needs and requirements.

The next stage of intelligent transportation systems: Connected mobility

Passive vehicle safety can be considered the foundation upon which active safety has built, using sensors to take the vehicle’s immediate surroundings into consideration. There are more recent efforts underway to enable the sharing of information gathered by the sensors between vehicles and between vehicles and their surroundings to increase safety further. This is the concept behind V2X (vehicle-to-X, where X represents other vehicles, infrastructure, roads, and so on) technology. This concept, called “info-safety,” contributes to the larger vision of a networked mobility environment. “Connected mobility,” as we refer to such an environment, is the next stage in the evolution of intelligent transportation systems (ITS). It comprises information sensors, portals, and centers throughout the environment, which together can sense, exchange, compile, process, and store information for further application.

Compared to today’s ITS, vehicles will play an even more crucial role as mobile sensors through the quantity and the quality of information they can gather and share (with their active safety systems). Use of these sensors can significantly enhance the capabilities of current ITS, which uses limited information from navigation technologies and roadside sensor infrastructure.

Furthermore, while most current ITS sensors (except GPS sensors) are stationary, vehicle sensors are mobile. Integration of mobile sensors is expected to expand coverage and foster quicker reaction times to changes in a situation. While active safety systems are currently geared mainly for passenger vehicles, information availability likely will be an important step in connected mobility, extending their application to buses, trucks, and personal mobility vehicles, all of which may also feature active safety systems and associated sensors.

Figure 5. Information flow of connected mobility


While the emerging network of sensors is in some respects impressive on its own, the broader questions surround the implementation of connected mobility. Specifically, what can be accomplished with this vast stock of information? Who is responsible for what, and who makes money? Finally, and crucially, what are the impediments to making this happen?

The value of data

Connected mobility has the potential to provide vast quantities of geospatial data continuously, and the list of possibilities for how to use the information obtained through connected mobility should be exciting even to non-quants. At the vehicle level, remote vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure communication can provide enhanced safety as well as energy efficiencies in driving (stop-and-go driving and of course idling in traffic are measurable culprits in energy waste). Beyond the vehicle level, the information can be used by organizations in both private and public sectors. One major service that information from connected mobility can help provide is traffic demand management, which manages traffic to avoid congestion. Another is on-demand transportation, in which information from the connected mobility network would help to quickly locate and respond to transportation demand. The list of possibilities is substantial.

Information use in connected mobility

  • Info-safety: A vehicle spots an obstacle and shares the information to other vehicles on the road via vehicle-to-vehicle communication
  • Energy efficiency:
    • Real-time traffic information is used to determine the most energy efficient route
    • Real-time driving condition information is used to optimize energy usage according to driving conditions (curves, hills, ice, etc.) and can automatically decide the best propulsion option—fuel or electric—to maximize efficiency
    • Real-time information is used for optimized driving and charging
  • Traffic demand management: Real-time traffic conditions such as latest accidents or traffic jam information are used for efficient routing and accurate estimates of travel time.
  • On-demand transportation: Real-time information regarding people in need of transportation will be used to determine the time and location from where they have to be picked up—an opportunity for private as well as public transport providers.
  • Surveillance: Visual information from camera sensors can be used for surveillance of crimes/incidents, including vehicle theft, hit-and-run incidents, etc.
  • Area monitoring: Visual information from camera sensors can be used to monitor local area activities, for instance, the opening or closing of businesses in the neighborhood.

Main takeaway: A large source of intricate information provided from connected mobility can lead to a series of benefits all of which provide society with safety, energy efficiency, convenience, and more.

Who does what, and who makes money?

Broadly, connected mobility will likely consist of three categories of industry players: information acquirers, information aggregators, and information providers. Information acquirers are any entities that capture information for the network via their sensors. Information aggregators will have the role of compiling, storing, processing, and analyzing the information and relaying it to the information providers. Information providers will then use the information to provide products or services.

Intriguing opportunities exist for new services in the information aggregator and information provider realms. The former will be required to manage large quantities of data, and their added value will likely come from services developed around the needs of information providers, such as sorting or data mining. We may also see information aggregators take on the role of information providers themselves (think of Google which compiles and stores information about streets around the world and provides the information to end users on its own).

For information acquirers, such as vehicle owners, business opportunities may not be so obvious, but as the primary source of invaluable information, they have some degree of leverage relative to information aggregators and providers. With that leverage, the acquirers can expect incentives, perhaps access to some free services, in return for feeding the network with essential information.

This scenario raises interesting questions regarding the roles of automakers and suppliers, who will likely become the information providers and would want to leverage their industry experience with regard to consumer behavior, tastes, and needs regarding vehicles in order to come up with the right services or solutions to provide. For instance, some automakers provide telematics services and could use that as a foundation to provide extra services when connected mobility becomes a reality. And of course there is always the option of cooperation. To make the most out of the opportunities in connected mobility, automakers and suppliers might partner with an IT company in order to complement each other’s strengths and shore up any shortcomings in capabilities. This could benefit the network as a whole, accelerating innovation.

Main takeaway: Information acquirers, aggregators, and providers are all industry players who will be taking a piece out of the connected mobility pie.

The fine print

All of this data-driven nirvana comes with one obvious footnote: Connected mobility has the potential to impinge upon individual privacy. In a community in which sensors such as cameras abound, vehicle drivers and pedestrians may not feel comfortable knowing that their activities are being monitored constantly. Regulations will have to lay the ground rules for what information can be collected as well as what is available for use. This is a complex cost-benefit analysis, with the benefits of connected mobility weighed against equally core societal values regarding the ownership and use of personal information. Deploying connected mobility via public transportation systems and vehicle fleets, such as taxis, may offer an attractive interim approach since privacy is less likely to be compromised, but such a pilot program will not resolve the broader issues. Once the benefits, along with the quantified and well-understood risks, are evident, individual vehicle drivers or society as a whole may become more inclined to embrace connected mobility to its full technological potential.

A second consideration is quite simply the scale and cost of the endeavor. Connected mobility must also deal with feasibility and security concerns—issues that require immediate attention. In terms of feasibility, the greatest challenge comes from stakeholder (private, public sector, and consumer) commitment. Industry participants will have to make investments and resource commitments, and will most likely have to be patient about real returns as the effectiveness of the network will rely on its prevalence, while public sector investment will be done in the face of austerity headwinds in many countries.

Finally, the security implications are significant (to put it mildly). A connected mobility network implemented to its full technological potential would rely heavily on information that could reveal personal behavior patterns, and risks of system failure or rogue behavior are of concern. Data security would be paramount here, arguably to the same degree it might be in the financial services sector. This suggests that such systems would need to be resilient, with core safety features able to operate independently of information obtained from connected mobility.

Main takeaway: The challenges that need to be overcome are privacy concerns, security concerns, and commitment from both the public and private sectors and consumers. Overcoming these challenges will bode well for the prospects of connected mobility.

Unlocking New Possibilities

Vehicle safety has long been an arena for breeding technological improvement. From passive safety to active safety to connected mobility, great strides are being made in both concept and technology. Passive safety, active safety, and connected mobility should not replace each other, but rather coexist and be integrated to create synergies, including improvement in energy efficiency, another important theme in the automotive sector.

Safety Image 2

The Ideals of Autonomous Driving

Gerhard Steiger, president of the Chassis Systems Control division at Robert Bosch GmbH, has said that the automotive industry is focusing on adding extra value to existing safety features and cites autonomous driving as a case in point, describing it as a “new field with both current and new players.”15

While the obvious initial benefits may be to assume the burden of prolonged concentration and navigation, the technology offers significant potential to advance both vehicle safety and energy efficiency. Under several ongoing pilot projects, autonomous driving is being deployed in fleets in communities, with the goal of maximizing both safety and energy efficiency benefits by creating an accident-free personalized mobility network.16

The term “autonomous” can be misleading. The risks, but more importantly the legal implications, that would arise with completely autonomous—as in driverless—vehicles means that there will most likely be a mandate to have a driver onboard, which is the case in the legalized autonomous driving in California,17 Florida,18 and Nevada.19

The automotive industry is experiencing a structural change in which value chains are being reworked in both upstream and downstream parts of the industry, as a number of new players in IT and telecommunications, among others, have emerged. The initial advantage may accrue to automakers and suppliers, which will continue to hold technological advantages gained from decades of experience in developing vehicles. In addition, automakers and suppliers will likely reap the fruits of both new technologies and new businesses associated with connected mobility. Although new industry entrants can be seen as potential threats, they can also be seen as opportunities for partnerships.

In contrast, for new industry entrants, opportunity lies in finding a path and learning how to integrate their technologies with the automotive industry. To accelerate and expand opportunities for further innovations, alliances between traditional and new industry players are likely to emerge as the route to a more intelligent future in transport.