A recently signed agreement aims to expand the use of European Space Agency (ESA) space technology to make roads safer in Europe.

The Agency’s Navigation Directorate finalized a Memorandum of Intent with ERTICO, the organization for the Coordination of the Telematic Implementation of European Road Transport, a public-private partnership focused on the development, promotion and connection of intelligent road systems and services.

The collaboration between ESA and ERTICO aims to support and promote the development and commercialization of future more sustainable technologies in the transport and mobility sectors.

Achieving a green transition in this sector is particularly important as it accounts for around 23% of global CO2 emissions, of which nearly half, 45%, comes from cars and a further 30% from trucks.

Increasing the use of space for a green future is part of ESA’s strategy to accelerate the use of space, it writes Tech Xplore.

How will ESA contribute to safer roads?

“Today’s memorandum is a big step forward towards safer roads and a more efficient and sustainable transport sector in Europe through the use of space applications and services,” comments Javier Benedicto, ESA’s Director of Navigation.

“Through various activities, including European co-funded projects, innovation platforms and advocacy for international cooperation, ERTICO’s partner members have been bringing progress in the field of transport for more than two decades,” says Benedicto.

“ERTICO’s comprehensive plans define a future in which vehicles communicate with each other, with the roads they travel on and with other infrastructure, but also highlight the fundamental need for ubiquitous, accurate and reliable positioning, navigation and timing information; in short, PNT”, says the ESA official.

“This is the focus of ESA’s Navigation Innovation and Support Programme, NAVISP, so the potential for synergy is obvious and enormous,” the director continued.

Satellite navigation systems

Involving many of the engineers who led the development of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system, NAVISP looks at different kinds of smart ideas about the future of navigation: ways to improve satellite navigation, alternative positioning systems, and new navigation services and applications.

The program is divided into a trio of elements: “Element 1” supports innovation in NTP, “Element 2” focuses on industrial competitiveness, including new technologies and services, and “Element 3” is dedicated to supporting the priorities of participating Member States, such as the development of national PNT test areas.

NAVISP projects have already addressed intelligent road systems and services in all three program elements.

What are the ESA plans for safer roads?

Aviation being the safest mode of transport, the IMPACARS project, under Element 1, sought to extend the aviation-based ‘integrity’ concept to automobiles.

The Element 2 Road Sounder project involved low-cost devices that can be placed on board vehicles to monitor the condition of road surfaces.

At the same time, P-CAR, within Element 3, supports the development of a laboratory dedicated to autonomous driving in Italy.

“There is much more to do in supporting the transition to safer roads and more sustainable traffic systems in the future, and today’s new cooperative effort helps make that happen,” adds Rafael Lucas, chief of NAVISP’s Technical Program Office.

“Because ERTICO brings together so many different actors (service providers, transport companies, research institutions, universities, public authorities and the connectivity industry as well as vehicle manufacturers) this cooperation opens up a huge number of unique starting points for research future, bringing our work closer to market and increasing commercialization opportunities for space applications,” says Lucas.

What is ERTICO?

ERTICO, founded in 1991 at the initiative of several industry leaders and the European Commission, is a public-private partnership organization with nearly 120 members, connecting different sectors of the intelligent transport systems community.

“Our ‘Cooperative, Connected and Automated Mobility’ (CCAM) plan is an area of ​​major interest for us,” explains Joost Vantomme, CEO of ERTICO.

“It will enable the reduction of human error, by far the biggest cause of road accidents, through functions such as collision avoidance, lane departure warnings and car parking, as well as the regulation of traffic flow to maximize fuel efficiency and to prevent otherwise unavoidable congestion on European roads,” says Vantomme.

The vehicles of the future

An assisted or self-driving vehicle needs to fuse data from multiple sensors, such as video cameras, lidar, radar, inertial measurement units and odometers, via wi-fi, 5G, etc. For an objective measurement of its location also requires ubiquitous and continuous PNT information.

Satellite navigation is most often used for PNT, but in some environments, such as busy city centers, signals can be interrupted by tall buildings, low overpasses or unwanted reflections called “multipath”, so that positioning information can be lost exactly when they are needed. Therefore, several NAVISP projects seek to advance satellite navigation with a variety of additional PNT sources.

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