Drive And Ambition
ecoDriver: delivering the state-of-the-art in supporting drivers to save fuel, by Andrew Winder, Silvia Curbelo and Oliver Carsten.
In a world where we are hearing more and more news stories about achievements in automated driving, the development of in-vehicle systems to assist drivers in saving energy may seem passé and mundane.
However, with inland transport (most of which is by road) accounting for over 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, reducing the environmental damage from road transport is an important social goal. Traffic management, modal shift, cleaner and more efficient engines, planning, pricing and taxation, ITS and so on are all tools which can contribute to making transport greener, but at the end of the day a lot remains in the hands of individual drivers.
Providing real-time guidance to drivers can help private motorists and fleet operators save considerably on their fuel expenses as well as reducing their emissions, by curtailing unnecessary acceleration, cruising more and at a more reasonable speed, and decelerating well in advance of a point where speed has to be reduced. Users of electric vehicles (EVs) can be guided on how to maximise their range, so reducing one of the major impediments to the adoption of electro-mobility.
And let’s be realistic: automated driving may provide solutions to many of the negative aspects of road transport, but the widespread use of highly automated vehicles is not going to happen overnight. In the meantime, we have to find ways to address the negative impacts of today’s and tomorrow’s vehicles. That has been the focus of over four years of research in the ecoDriver European project.
From eco-driving to ecoDriver
Eco-driving is essentially about making small changes to how a vehicle is driven in order to maximise its efficiency, not only in terms of fuel use but also wear and tear (for example on brakes) and emissions. Because it is slower and smoother, there are also safety benefits. Eco-driving training is available, although drivers tend to return to their old driving style afterwards. Another limitation is that drivers unfamiliar with a particular road do not have sufficient advance information on features such as bends, gradients and junctions, in order to drive in an anticipatory way.
The ecoDriver project has worked on addressing this issue by developing and extensively testing a range of in-vehicle systems to assist in a user-friendly way, but without taking control away from the driver. The systems are built on real-time energy use and emissions algorithms, tailored to different vehicle models, powertrains (petrol, diesel, electric) and transmission (manual or automatic gearbox). They rely on digital maps of the road network in the same way as navigation systems: indeed eco-driving and eco-navigation (most efficient routing according to the vehicle type and time of departure) are highly complementary. Different Human-Machine Interface (HMI) solutions have been developed and tested. All of this sets ecoDriver apart from other eco-driving support initiatives and applications: our approach has been to investigate a wide range of options, for different user types, different vehicles and at different levels of price and performance.
The project started in 2011 and is a collaborative effort between 12 partners, including research institutes, universities, vehicle manufacturers and systems suppliers. It is part-funded by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG-Connect).
Making it simple
Eco-driving support systems will only provide benefits if drivers are happy using them. Information overload, displays that are difficult to read, confusing symbols or language issues would seriously reduce their attractiveness and increase the risk of distracted driving. User friendliness and safety are the keys to success.
Earlier phases of ecoDriver worked extensively on feedback and information strategies, tailored to different types of drivers (by age, sex, driving experience, leisure or professional drivers, etc). Different personality and behaviour typologies were studied through psychological questionnaires and tests in driving simulators, as well as during the on-road trials.
Common language-independent symbols were tested, such as advice on recommended speed, gear shift indications and upcoming road features (eg, traffic lights). A prototype integrated “Full ecoDriver System” (FeDS) was developed by the project. This allows different drivers of the same vehicle to create a profile and gives them a visual score depending on their eco-driving performance. Importantly, it not only gives feedback according to driver performance, but also remembers common mistakes and gives “feed-forward” advice to help users improve.
The FeDS was integrated into a Renault Scenic, a Renault Clio, a Volkswagen Passat, a Volvo V70 and an electric Nissan Leaf car. Proprietary integrated systems based on the FeDS were also developed by ecoDriver partners BMW, CRF and Daimler, and integrated into a BMW 535i, a Lancia Musa, a Fiat Bravo, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta and a Mercedes-Benz Actros truck.
The display on the FeDS used a smartphone on a holder, connected to the CAN-Bus of the vehicle. The proprietary versions developed by vehicle manufacturers integrated the displays into the vehicle’s dashboard. Furthermore, BMW developed and tested a Head-up Display (HuD) on the windscreen, whereas partners in Spain and Italy (CTAG and CRF respectively) installed a haptic pedal in two cars. In these cases, the accelerator pedal gives a greater upward force when the driver needs to ease off the gas and slow down.
Because vehicles with an integrated ecoDriver system will not be available tomorrow, our French partner IFSTTAR developed a nomadic application based on a smartphone connected to the vehicle’s CAN-Bus using the OBD2 standard. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, TomTom, developed an aftermarket system aimed at fleet operators and professional drivers, which combines navigation with eco-driving advice.
Behind the wheel
Over 2014 and 2015, ecoDriver undertook Europe’s largest ever trial of eco-driving support systems: over 60 vehicles and 190 drivers across nine locations in seven European countries (Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and the UK). Some of the trials were controlled, in that drivers covered fixed routes, with and without the system, and with an observer from the project as well as the data collected by the system itself. Others were naturalistic, with drivers free to use the system as part of their everyday driving. The naturalistic trials included use of the TomTom system by professional drivers of vans and trucks in two transport companies in the Netherlands and Germany, as well as on buses on a route in Leeds. They also included trials led by CTAG in the area around Vigo, Spain, whereby external volunteer drivers tested the nomadic smartphone application on their own cars.
In Sweden, project partner VTI supplemented the controlled trials of the FeDS in a Volvo by integrating eye-tracking software into the vehicle to test user reactions to the system. The focus here was therefore on safety and monitoring the level of driver distraction. Other highlights included testing the system on a Nissan Leaf by CTAG and on a Mercedes-Benz truck by Daimler.
The trials allowed different systems and HMI solutions to be tested on a wide range of drivers, by age, sex, experience and nationality, and in different European road conditions, from urban to rural and motorway driving, as well as in hilly areas.
Getting it out there
Meanwhile, another strand of the project is looking to the future. The real success of ecoDriver will only be when there is significant take-up and use of such systems. So, what is needed for ecoDriver to become implemented, to gain acceptance and to produce environmental and cost benefits?
One of the key issues is the cost of the system and willingness to pay. The cost can vary between a negligible amount for the smartphone application (assuming it can be downloaded freely or very cheaply, and only a holder needs to be purchased) to several hundred euros for an integrated system. The price cannot be determined now as the unit costs under mass production would be far less than the cost of the prototypes developed in this project. Looking at prices for comparable equipment packages in cars, we estimate that the Full ecoDriver System could add around €250 to the price of a new car on average, perhaps rising to €400 for a performant model for high-end cars or trucks.
If we assume an average annual fuel bill for a car to be around €1500 and the system allows the driver to save 8 per cent, then it would pay for itself in just over two years. In practice, net savings would depend on the driver’s reaction and use, the types of roads and distances driven, their baseline performance (without the system) and fuel prices.
The project looked at different contextual scenarios: a “policy freeze”, assuming stable fuel prices and a relatively low level of policy support, a “green future” option, whereby fuel prices rise significantly (possibly due to taxation) and policy and research strongly support eco-driving solutions, and a “challenging future” option, with lower fuel prices, little policy support and slower technological development. Clearly the latter scenario would reduce the opportunities for successful ecoDriver deployment whereas the “green future” scenario could lead to much greater take-up, as shown in the graphs below.
Time to market is a key consideration: nomadic and aftermarket solutions can come online very quickly. In fact, project partner TomTom launched its OptiDrive 360 in 2015, the first commercial product to come out of the project, and which has already picked up the Techies 2015 and Fleet Innovation awards. Fully integrated systems as standard in new vehicles will take longer. Smartphones and similar add-on systems can provide “quick wins” while more performant integrated systems gradually enter the market on new vehicles.
In terms of customers: the fleet market is one of the keys to success. Companies providing passenger or freight transport services (buses, taxis, logistics) are keen to save on fuel bills as well as boost their environmental credentials. They replace their fleets frequently and are able to monitor the driving performance of their employees. While a private motorist may overlook small fuel saving, say less than 5 per cent, a company operating a large number of vehicles will certainly feel such a benefit.
Come and see us in Stuttgart in March!
The ecoDriver project is drawing to a close and the Final Event will take place at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, on 16-17 March 2016. All are welcome to come to this fantastic venue, steeped in automotive history, to hear the results of ecoDriver and debate what the future could be. The event will stimulate interest among policy-makers, researchers, manufacturers and service providers, fleet operators, and in general, anyone eager to learn more about Intelligent Transport Systems, green mobility and Human Machine Interfaces, including students in these areas.
We will have six cars and a truck to demonstrate the different systems on the public road network around Stuttgart, some of which delegates will be able to drive. With high level speakers, stimulating discussions, rides and a free visit the Mercedes-Benz Museum, this promises to be a fascinating and enjoyable event. For further details and free registration, see www.ecodriver-project.eu .
Andrew Winder is a Project Manager in the Innovation and Deployment department of ERTICO – ITS Europe. Silvia Curbelo is a journalist and Communications Officer at ERTICO. Oliver Carsten is the Project Coordinator and Professor of Transport Safety at the Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds.
ecoDriver runs from October 2011 to March 2016 and is co-funded by the European Commission, DG-Connect (grant agreement no. 288611). It is coordinated by the University of Leeds and the other 11 partners are BMW, CRF, Daimler, IKA (RWTH Aachen University), TomTom, TNO, CTAG, IFSTTAR, Simotion, VTI and ERTICO.