A sleek, shiny vehicle powered by solar energy speeds across a red and rocky desert landscape. Using a connected traffic application called the Solar Navigator, this vehicle can find the most efficient path through the forbidding terrain.
Though it may sound like the opening to science fiction film, the vehicle in question is no spaceship, but a family car (or at least a look at the family car of the future). Named the Stella Vie, this experimental solar-powered car raced 3,000 kilometers across the Australian outback to win the World Solar Challenge in October of 2017.
Carrying 3 to 5 people at a time and using 48 kWh per km, Stella Vie averaged 69 kph to win the 2017 race. Demonstrating just how efficient the car is, at the end of the competition, Stella Vie had collected a surplus of energy that was fed into the power grid.
The victory for Stella Vie demonstrates the benefits of automotive IoT and the connected vehicle ecosystem. That’s a victory for all of us, as connected traffic begins to make our cities greener, safer and more profitable.
Solar Team Eindhoven are on a winning streak
The Stella Vie was designed, constructed and driven by team Solar Team Eindhoven (STE), a multidisciplinary group of 21 students from the Technical University Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The car was built to compete in the World Solar Challenge, the world’s ultimate race for solar-powered vehicles.
STE won their division at the World Solar Challenge in 2013 and 2015, but the team wasn’t resting on their laurels, they were ready to defend their title again in 2017. As Stella Vie raced alongside 41 other teams on the route from Darwin to Adelaide, it was clear their competitors had been hard at work on new designs and leading-edge technologies.
To stay ahead of the pack, Stella Vie used the latest vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology, including Ericsson’s Solar Navigator app. This bespoke connected traffic application was designed by Ericsson to help Stella Vie move past their competition as efficiently as possible.
A proving ground for technology
The purpose of the World Solar Challenge is to provide teams a testing ground for new technology. Every two years for the past 30 years, the World Solar Challenge committee has invited teams from around the world to push the limits of vehicles powered only by solar energy.
There are three classes of cars which participate in the challenge today, the challengers, cruisers and a non-competitive class. A member of the cruiser-class vehicles, Stella Vie is designed as prototypes for a practical, family car that can run on solar power.
Energy positive solar cars
Solar Team Eindhoven is demonstrating how solar-powered cars can be a viable option for transport in the near future. Stella Vie uses V2X technology to travel through traffic as efficiently as possible, which leads to a lower overall energy expenditure.
Being so economical, Stella Vie generates more energy than is required for the needs of an average family. The car can feed energy into the power grid, thus creating a energy positive transport solution.
More than being just energy efficient, the cars participating in the World Solar Challenge must be tough enough to travel across one of the world's most challenging landscapes. The extreme conditions the cars withstand serves as proof that the solutions used in the Stella Vie can be applied in real life.
Innovation requires collaboration
To win the challenge, the team behind Stella Vie combined their knowledge of automotive design, smart power grids, intelligent transport systems (ITS) and connected infrastructure. Solar Team Eindhoven exemplifies the cross-industry collaborations that are needed to make the most of ITS.
Similarly, our Connected Urban Transport solution brings together all the divergent parts of the connected transport ecosystem, with the goal of creating a better standard of living for all. Working with Solar Team Eindhoven, we were able to create a customized prototype drawing data made available through Ericsson’s Connect Urban Transport. Beyond prototypes, Connected Urban Transport is connecting traffic ecosystems today.
An example of this can be seen the Talking Traffic project in the Netherlands, where the Dutch traffic authority is utilizing the cloud and IoT to maximize traffic flow without costly investments in new infrastructure.
In 2016, The Dutch traffic authority tasked Siemens, Simacan and Ericsson to create a nationwide ITS that would maximize traffic flow on existing roads, rails and waterways. Six months later, the consortium rolled out a cloud-based platform that collects and shares data between infrastructure, vehicles and people. The Talking Traffic platform utilizes both short- and long-range communication technologies to create a smart traffic ecosystem. Our cloud platform, Connected Urban Transport, now serves as the front door of the Dutch infrastructure systems, allowing all stakeholders to cooperate.
Fast is not enough, Stella Vie is smart
Ericsson began sponsoring Solar Team Eindhoven in 2015 as the team geared up to compete in the premiere of the cruiser-class at the World Solar Challenge. STE’s previous car, the Stella Lux, was equipped with Ericsson’s Solar Navigator, an in-car app that aggregated data on weather, traffic and car performance to optimize the team’s route.
The Solar Navigator app communicated with the Connected Urban Transport to anticipate upcoming events on the road. With queues from the app, the driver could adjust accordingly. By minimizing braking and acceleration, the Solar Navigator helped conserve the energy that pushed Stella Lux over the finish line in 2015.
In 2017, Stella Vie was equipped with the new Solar Navigator app, upgraded to incorporate topography and elevation data, which was applied to ensure the car was in the sun as much as possible, both on the road and when parked.
Thanks to advances driven by Connected Urban Transport, powered by Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator platform, the updated app also enables more interaction with the connected traffic ecosystem around the car, such as traffic lights and parking spaces.
Our connected traffic application
Connected Urban Transport makes it easy for industries, including transport, to work with connected devices. Connected Urban Transport is a cloud solution that feeds in-car applications with valuable data from the traffic ecosystem.
The Solar Navigator is a customized version of a connected traffic application, designed to make smarter, connected traffic a reality. This application helps optimize a vehicle’s journey by taking into consideration near-real time information from public officials and road authorities, other vehicles on the road, and connected sensors in infrastructure such as traffic lights.
Efficient driving is encouraged with suggestions from the app. A tablet-sized monitor in the car changes color to prompt drivers to brake or accelerate. The app also tells the driver how long they have until the traffic signal ahead turns red or green.
The traffic light feature helps reduce accidents and allows vehicles to move more efficiently through intersections. Less acceleration and idling contributes to lower energy consumption and reduced emissions. This is an example of how connected transport can make a real difference in the air quality of our cities.
An easier way to drive – and park
Based on the driver’s destination, our connected traffic application plans a route incorporating data on weather, traffic congestion and road conditions. For Stella Vie, local weather, topography and elevation are tracked to enable maximum exposure to the sun.
Once drivers reach their destination, the app guides them to an open parking space that will fit their vehicle, even if it is a 4.6 meter-long carbon-fiber solar car. This feature is valuable in terms of the time and energy saved, but also as a way to connect service providers directly with drivers with an easy path-to-purchase.
Breaking data out of darkened silos
Team Eindhoven’s main challenge was to deliver a practical family car that is energy efficient. Efficiency can be achieved when you have information from the road ahead of you, such as the behavior of the next traffic light. Much of this data exists somewhere, but it's not yet in our cars.
Today, there is a lot of data collected on how our roads, rails and waterways are being utilized. Unfortunately, a lot of that information is unused, or is used ineffectively.
Currently, various stakeholders have useful data stored in dark silos. The Connected Urban Transport platform integrates near real-time data from cars and the infrastructure to make travel safer and smoother. To achieve that, standardization is needed and silos must be eliminated.
The Netherlands’ Talking Traffic platform serves as an example of how the cloud can become a meeting point for many different stakeholders in the traffic ecosystem. Connected Urban Transport provides all those stakeholders with a common language and unified processes.
Stakeholders in the traffic ecosystem are now beginning to understand the value of their data. With Connected Urban Transport, it is becoming easier for governments, transit authorities and authorities to better utilize the cloud and IoT.
The value of data in the traffic ecosystem
With a smart traffic solution, the public sector can optimize existing infrastructure and avoid the costs of expansion. By opening up the aggregated data collected in the traffic ecosystem, road and transit officials can also encourage third-parties to develop valuable apps and services.
By looking at driver and vehicle behaviors, software developers and service providers can find new market opportunities that make the entire ecosystem more profitable, and thus, more sustainable. Connected Urban Transport makes it easier to build symbiotic collaborations between private and public organisations, each with their own knowledge and skill sets.
With Ericsson’s Connected Urban Transport, the world’s growing cities have a tool to develop, rollout and monetize exciting new mobility solutions. We don’t need to wait for the perfect solar car to increase efficiency on our roads. By enabling secure data sharing across the entire transport system, we will soon see changes for the better.
Making connected transport more profitable
As IoT expands to include connected vehicles and infrastructure, anyone and anything that moves will be effected. Digitization and cloud connectivity will continue to transform many aspects of how we travel, work and live.
Our out-of the-box intelligent traffic management platform helps cities support higher standards of living, as well as economic growth. But for that to happen, all the players need monetized incentive.
As vehicles move across cities and nations, they use various services as they go. Collecting and distributing the fees for these services may involve complex, multi-party payment schemes. With our Enterprise and Cloud Billing (ECB) platform, fees for road tolls, parking, or any service, are easily paid and payments can distributed accordingly to various stakeholders.
Partnership and contracts need to be adaptable as technology advances, market conditions evolve and organizational structures are transformed. Ericsson ECB is built on a metadata-driven (data about data) architecture that enables fluid management of services and pricing plans.
How the power grid fits in the connected traffic ecosystem
In the Australian outback, collecting solar energy is no problem. But In climates similar to STE’s home in the Netherlands, solar rays can be a scarce commodity during many months of the year. But according to STE’s calculations, their cars are capable of driving at least 40 kilometers, even in dark, rainy conditions.
40 kilometers is more than the average daily travel distance, but for longer journeys cars will need to switch between power sources. Vehicles must interact with smart power grids to recharge batteries when needed, and to feed electricity back into the grid when possible.
One feature of the Solar Navigator in the Stella Vie shows drivers how much energy is saved using solar power, as compared to standard, fossil fuel-sourced power. In-car energy levels are continuously monitored to predict the range and energy levels at destination. In a real world setting, this feature can prompt drivers (or cars) to switch between fuel sources, and encourages the use of sustainable power.
Complex, multi-party payment models come into play when cars charge-up or share energy with the power grid. Energy providers, network operators, vehicle owners and other players need a fluid way to manage payment schemes.
The potential to make cars energy positive has huge implications on mobility. The car doesn't have to be a barrier to a sustainable society, it can become an enabler to a greener economy.
A win for the future of connected traffic
Of the 12 cruiser-class cars that started the World Solar Challenge, only six finished. Stella Vie came in first, proving that connected traffic applications like the Solar Navigator can produce real results in challenging situations.
The technology that helped Stella Vie succeed is already contributing to more efficient mobility in places like the Netherlands. The Dutch traffic authority has harnessed data to improve everyday life not just for commuters, but for everyone.
Connected Urban Transport helps put together the pieces in the traffic ecosystem puzzle. All the data aggregated by Connected Urban Transport is the jumping-off point for cities to become more attractive places to live and work. Stella Vie’s victory is a win for all of us who look forward to cleaner, safer and more profitable cities.