Pedestrians, bicyclists and cars must share the streets more equitably

BMW's 'UR:BAN' project developing grid lock easing technology


The automobile is so successful urban highways are choking on the crushing load of cars, but a BMW research project is looking into integrating computer technology to help drivers manage urban driving, and ease traffic congestion.

Most of the automakers are recognizing that growing urbanization will challenge business-as-usual in the automobile industry. BMW has launched the UR:BAN research initiative looking at driver assist and traffic management technology, to help drivers navigate dense urban streets and ease the traffic load.

The promise the automakers sold to previous generations was "unrestricted freedom of personal mobility" and as a result those generations of city planners built the highway systems necessary for automobiles to implement unrestricted personal mobility. In the years since the highway systems, instead of offering freedom, are more like a jail trapping drivers in traffic jams for miles on end, with the risk of collisions at the slightest driving mistake.

In BMW's mind, "traffic and transport systems must find a way to cope with these strains" so that drivers can safely navigate their way through an increasingly urbanized highway system as safely, efficiently and comfortably as possible.

The UR:BAN project, a German acronym meaning “Urban space: user-oriented assistance systems and network management”, involves 30 partners, comprising automotive manufacturers and suppliers, electronics, communication technology and software companies, universities, research institutes and cities, researching three things: “Cognitive Assistance”, “Networked Traffic System” and “The Human Element in Traffic”.

“Cognitive Assistance”: Driving in dense urban settings means managing a lot of information, the most critical of which is seeing and interacting with pedestrians and bicyclists. Urban settings are a great place for both walking and bicycling, making for a large number of people traveling in those modes, often at close quarters with cars.

A Cognitive Assistance sub-project “Protection of Vulnerable Road Users” uses a variety of sensors or cameras to scan the surroundings, detect pedestrians and bicyclists, to avoid bumping into them. A vehicle-pedestrian accident can then be prevented by braking and/or steering.

“With the help of high-resolution sensor systems capable of scanning large areas of the driving environment, our aim is to make drivers aware of hazards in good time and to help them respond safely with the goal of reducing the number and severity of accidents in urban driving situations,” says Dr Peter Zahn, UR:BAN Project Manager at BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH.

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