Smart Automobiles and Next-Generation Transportation Systems

Fujitsu Forum 2015 Tokyo, Fujitsu's largest annual event, was held at the Tokyo International Forum in the city’s Yurakucho district on May 14–15, 2015. Nikkei Automotive Editor-in-Chief Mr. Hayashi Tatsuhiko and Fujitsu, Ltd. Executive Officer Mr. Motoyuki Ozawa were involved in a session called "Changing Automobiles, Changing Society, the Future of Transportation—Fujitsu Group Next-Generation Transportation Initiatives." During this session, they discussed the future of transportation.

Fujitsu Group’s vision for the future of transportation involves cars that can:
- Determine the route to a destination while selecting smooth roads by monitoring the physical condition of any children riding in the car.
- Suggest that drivers slow down when the weather suddenly changes or when they are approaching a curve
- Connect with transportation networks that link them and people with everything else in the city.
- Support people's lives in very natural ways.

At the session’s beginning, Mr. Ozawa told the audience, "Fujitsu has been experimenting with autonomous vehicles since 1980 or so." He then displayed some photographs taken during experiments using the company's image processing system for such vehicles. He then talked about the Fujitsu Group's long commitment to automotive technological development. He added that ever since around 1970, Fujitsu has been providing electronic components for the on-board microcomputers that automobiles started to feature around that time. He said that this business has expanded to "generate just under 500 billion yen a year across the entire Fujitsu group." Finally, he described Fujitsu's latest efforts regarding smart cars and next-generation transportation systems that illustrate the need to combine automobiles and ICT.

Solving Transportation Challenges in Both New and Mature Cities

Mr. Ozawa described several joint domestic and overseas projects. These included initiatives to relieve traffic congestion in emerging nations, where urbanization-related congestion has become a social problem, as well as to help optimize the extensive public transportation networks in urban areas. As an example, he discussed efforts to eliminate Bangkok’s traffic congestion.

In Bangkok, cars caused gridlock on main streets where people had to turn left to pick up their children from school. Here, Fujitsu attached cameras to pedestrian bridges and intersections to both check the level of congestion and find its main cause. Fujitsu proposed a way of regulating lane use to eliminate this gridlock. This is one of a growing list of the company’s achievements in easing traffic congestion.

Mr. Ozawa said, "In areas like Bangkok where non-automotive transportation is still developing, it is important to propose solutions based on an understanding of urban growth and public behavior." By using ICT as an impetus that is scientifically backed by evidence and our achievements, Fujitsu has contributed to the resolution of the transportation issues facing society.

In European cities with developed public transportation networks, Fujitsu is working on a project for multi-modal* route planning, involving a system that suggests optimal routes and adapts to the ever-changing conditions. The system takes into account a variety of traffic-related issues, such as train delays and road congestion. It then suggests route changes via smartphones. Fujitsu is experimenting with an application that could recommend that a commuter use a bicycle that has been reserved and is waiting at one of the stations on his/her route.

*Establishing efficient transport systems, a favorable transportation environment, and measures to link multiple transportation networks, including those for road, air, sea, and rail.

In Japan, together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Fujitsu Laboratories is working on a demonstration of a public transportation system using “triple-role vehicles.” For example, if a user wishes to travel to a destination as quickly as possible, the system would dispatch to him or her a vehicle acting as a taxi. If multiple users were going in the same direction, it would dispatch a vehicle acting as a shared taxi. For users with time to spare who want to save money, the system would dispatch a vehicle that would act as a bus. Mr. Ozawa said, "The triple-role vehicle model could increase revenues by 80% per vehicle." On-demand transportation adapting to user needs could have a huge impact.

Ubiquitous Automobile Data Center Connections

So, how will the automobile itself evolve in the future? In what form will it contribute to next-generation transportation? Mr. Hayashi proposed several keywords for deciphering the future evolution of cars.

One of these is "camera." "In the automatic brakes already mounted on many cars, for example, cameras play an important role in detecting pedestrians or obstacles using image recognition. Other applications involve, for example, using image recognition to prevent lane deviation by detecting road lines. When camera sensitivity is enhanced in the future, it may also be possible to detect people or animals at night. And if such technology advances even further, it may also be possible to completely automate steering for the development of autonomous automobiles. Semi-autonomous vehicles that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel in certain conditions, such as on highways and in traffic jams, will hit the market in 2017," said Mr. Hayashi, before presenting his predictions on the future of the automobile and on next-generation transportation based on his many years of experience editing car magazines.

Another important keyword is "online cars." These vehicles will be vital to the creation of next-generation transportation networks. At present, automobiles that can exchange information with the outside world—by, for example, receiving traffic information or offering web browsing—are not uncommon. Progress toward enabling vehicles to communicate with each other to ensure safety is also accelerating.

However, these "online cars" are just the beginning. Mr. Hayashi said, "In the future, there will be greater connectivity, with cars constantly communicating with data centers, sharing information on the weather, surface conditions, and congestion."

Fujitsu's Next-Generation Transportation Technology

For each of the keywords provided by the other presenter, Mr. Ozawa introduced state-of-the-art Fujitsu technology to match.

Fujitsu currently uses cameras and radar as “eyes” to monitor the area around a car, and is now researching and developing features to support drivers, such as functionality to detect pedestrians. "Infrared cameras can accurately monitor conditions on rainy nights when it’s difficult to see. However, we're also researching how to use images to detect tracking fluctuations to guide cars on a safe course," said Mr. Ozawa. Moreover, Fujitsu is studying techniques to reproduce automobiles and their surroundings as 3D images by combining camera and sensor data.

Fujitsu is also expanding its technology for use inside automobiles, as well. For example, the pulse wave FEELythm sensor uses camera images to monitor drivers and alert them if they show signs of drowsiness.

Conversely, taking advantage of the ICT infrastructure embodied in online cars, Fujitsu's mobility platform service—FUJITSU Intelligent Society Solution SPATIOWL—collects travel and sensor information. The SPATIOWL information service provides hydrogen station information for the MIRAI fuel cell vehicles manufactured by Toyota Motor Corporation. The service provides information on hydrogen stations, by monitoring their positions, how much hydrogen they have and their operational status.

Mr. Ozawa explained the possibilities and role of SPATIOWL in next-generation transportation systems, where online cars will be ubiquitous, as follows: "Collecting and analyzing hazard point maps, as well as weather, travel, and driving trend information, will contribute to safer next-generation transportation systems."

In 1886, 129 years ago this year, Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz invented the forerunner to the modern automobile. Cameras, sensors, and network technologies will lead to the development of safer and more useful next-generation transportation systems. By using the technological prowess that it has built up over many years, Fujitsu is opening up new roads in the field of next-generation transportation systems.

  • Tatsuhiko Hayashi
    Editor-in-Chief, Nikkei Automotive

  • Motoyuki Ozawa
    Executive Officer, Fujitsu Ltd.