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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-12-033    Date:  December 2012
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-12-033
Date: December 2012


The Exploratory Advanced Research Program

Recent International Activity in Cooperative Vehicle–Highway Automation Systems


Europe in General and European Commission Activities

The institutional environment associated with ITS in Europe is very complicated and substantially different from that of the United States. It is sufficiently complicated that most of the people who work in the field in Europe claim to not understand it themselves, including those who work at the major public and private sector organizations in the field. With the establishment of the European Union (EU), there is some broad analogy to the United States if one thinks of the EU being like the Federal Government and the individual national governments being like the State governments. In this comparison, the EC would be analogous to the executive branch of the Federal Government; however, the analogy between the EU and U.S. Government is imperfect, because the division of responsibilities and the flow of funding between the EU and its member states does not match the division between the Federal and State governments in the United States.

One of the most important contrasts between Europe and the United States is that European countries have ratified the Kyoto Accords on greenhouse gas reductions and take very seriously its mandate to reduce CO2 emissions from transportation. This means that saving energy and reducing CO2 emissions has become the most important motivating factor behind ITS as a whole and automation in particular, ahead of both safety and mobility–enhancement goals. The EU’s Transport Policy, as defined in a March 2011 White Paper, includes cutting in half the use of conventionally fueled road vehicles by 2030 and eliminating cars from Europe’s cities by 2050. National taxation in most European countries has put the price of gasoline in the range of $8 to $9 per gallon in recent times, providing strong incentives for the vehicle industry and consumers to save energy.

At the EC, several different DGs, analogous to cabinet–level Departments in the United States, are involved in ITS:

The level of coordination among these DGs is not particularly close, and they are not always aware of the activities in the other DGs. It is also significant that the technical research on ITS is supported in the agencies that are responsible for general research and industrial competitiveness in IT (analogous to National Science Foundation and Department of Commerce in the United States) rather than in transportation.

Each agency has its own processes for project selection and procurement, but in general, their procurements are less prescriptive than in the United States, because their rules are considerably different from the Federal Acquisition Regulations in the United States. There is much more opportunity for the industry and research community to influence the selection of research topics at the start of the process. The EC staff role is more of process facilitation rather than strategic direction setting; thus, the strategic direction comes more from the stakeholder community. In DG–CONNECT in particular, the project development and selection process appears to be much closer to the National Science Foundation process in the United States, with extensive bottom–up input on topics and peer review of proposals, than it is to the U.S. Department of Transportation process. The scope statement for a multi–million dollar project could be defined in one or two pages, leaving significant freedom to the teams competing for the funding to propose different technical approaches.

The EC funding is intended to encourage better integration and cooperation among the member states, so the funding always requires that proposals come from multi-national teams. In recent years, there has also been a strong emphasis on the funding of “integrated projects,” which are very large projects composed of multiple subprojects, with teams that can be comprised of 40–50 different organizations and funding levels of tens of millions of dollars. These large projects require their own management structures and decisionmaking processes, which are created by the project partners rather than the EC. This helps keep the EC staff small and its influence over project direction limited.

These aspects of the EC research funding process give it more flexibility to respond to the interests of its industrial and research stakeholders as those interests change, but they also mean that the EC cannot get too far out in front of its stakeholders either. When senior EC staff members make public statements about automation being the inevitable future of road transportation, there can be some confidence that this is more than a personal opinion, rather that it reflects the broader evolution of thinking in Europe.

National Activities in Europe

Despite the presence and influence of the EU, the individual member states maintain their own diverse perspectives on transportation and technology issues. Their differences in geography, economy, and history have produced significant differences in their transportation needs and institutional structures. The major European countries all have their own transportation and technology strategies, as well as different (and competing) industrial interests; thus, Europe cannot be viewed as a monolithic entity.


France has a strongly centralized government structure, with heavy national investments in both transportation and research through its government ministries; however, in recent years, the funding for public transit system development and operation has been decentralized to the cities. Economic and political decisions are dominated by Paris, one of Europe’s largest urban agglomerations, and all other parts of the country have a different stature (as well as significantly different problems and needs). The intercity high-speed rail network is the most highly developed one on the continent, and the intercity limited–access highways are privately operated toll ways (with high tolls). The highway operating companies have been international leaders in the adoption of ITS services.

France has two major automotive OEMs, Renault and PSA (which produces Peugeot and Citroën cars), neither of which has been exporting to the United States for a long time. They are not as large and do not have as much capability as the major German or Italian carmakers, and they have been relatively cautious about introducing ITS applications. Some years ago, they had a negative experience with the premature introduction of driver assistance systems, which led to a long period in which they were hostile to such systems and more advanced automation systems. Their position is now changing, in large part because of the growing emphasis on reducing energy use and greenhouse gas production. The French carmakers have been supporting new models of car ownership, such as carsharing systems, and have also become more multi–modal in orientation. Because PSA makes bicycles and motor scooters as well as cars, they have been creating integrated mobility solutions that combine these different modes. (Volkswagen has a somewhat different combination of electric bicycles and scooters available in Germany.)

France has a strong and well–funded national research establishment, with many national laboratories of international repute. The two major national research institutes that have been most important in the ITS field, the national institute for research on transportation systems and their safety (INRETS) and the national laboratory for roads and bridges (LCPC) were merged into a single entity, IFSTTAR, at the start of 2011, under the joint sponsorship of the ministries for research and industry and transportation. France had already created a jointly operated research laboratory to explore vehicle automation and interactions with drivers, called LIVIC, about 10 years earlier. The French research on CyberCars has been led by France’s national research institute for information technology and automation (INRIA), which is more generally oriented toward basic research.

France is also trying to encourage the international industrial competitiveness of its regions through the creation of regional clusters of industry, research laboratories, and academic institutions. The large national technology initiatives are now only accepting proposals from such regional clusters to maximize the likelihood that the research results can be commercialized. The goals of producing a marketable product or a new startup company are now among the specific targets of some of the national projects.

The French research institutes are also networking heavily with researchers in other countries for ITS work. The research and industry ministry sponsors a broad-based cooperative program with the German research and technology ministry called Deufrako (based on the contraction of the German words for German–French Cooperation), and there are other active research collaborations with Canada, Australia, and California.


Germany’s government is much more decentralized than France’s, with more of the funding and power residing at the state level compared with the federal level. The major intercity highways (autobahns) are free rather than tolled, and the only significant growth in that highway network in recent years has been in the eastern part of the country, where heavy investments were needed to bring the infrastructure up closer to western levels after the reunification 20 years ago.

Germany does not have the kind of national research institutes that France has, but it does have extremely strong research universities and technical universities. Because these universities are considerably more applied in their research than are the French universities and have substantial professional staff, faculty, and students, they are more nearly comparable with the national research institutes in France.

Germany also has three major automotive OEMs (i.e., Daimler–Benz, Volkswagen, and BMW) and tier–one suppliers, Bosch and Continental, which are international leaders in technology and sophistication. Because they all sell high–end cars, they also have the customer base to purchase the latest driver assistance innovations. They have strong corporate research laboratories, which have taken the leadership role in many of the EC projects, giving them a disproportionate influence on the direction of that research.

Germany’s research and technology ministry, Bundesministerium für Forschung und Technologie (BMFT), has been sponsoring national research programs in ITS for many years, complementing the EC research projects. These programs have had very strong involvement from the German carmakers and their major suppliers, which has led to a stronger emphasis on vehicle systems than on infrastructure systems. The current program, called Aktiv, is ending and will be followed by a new program. Germany’s equivalent of FHWA’s Turner–Fairbank Highway Research Center, BASt, has recently become active in automation issues, sponsoring important research on the legal issues associated with road–vehicle automation.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is the most densely populated country in Europe and is a transportation crossroads because of its location and its major air and seaports. This means that goods movement is a particularly strong concern here. The Rijkswaterstaat, the agency responsible for the national highway network, has been an international leader in ITS from the start and has been active in many projects. They want to be a leader in implementation of cooperative systems, from traffic management to vehicle-based systems, and have sponsored ambitious field tests of ACC and lane–departure warning systems in the past.

The Netherlands has strong research universities and a national research institute, TNO, which was formerly public but is now a private entity. They have been active participants in European–wide projects and are well networked internationally. The Netherlands does not have a domestic automobile industry, although they have smaller specialty truck and bus manufacturers and many suppliers. The region of North Brabant around Eindhoven is the technology hub for the country and has been investing heavily to establish itself as one of the European centers for automotive technology. The Netherlands is trying to capitalize on its lack of a home–based automotive OEM to market itself as unbiased suppliers to the entire international vehicle industry. Both government and industry have created projects and demonstrations to showcase their interest in V2I and I2V cooperative systems, including various levels of vehicle automation. These have involved the regional development agencies as well as the national ministry for economic development in projects such as the recently completed Strategic Platform for Intelligent Traffic Systems (SPITS), intended to spur deployment of ITS.


In Spain, the research ministry has been providing support to researchers who are working on several projects that involve vehicle automation at the national scientific research council’s automation and robotics center. These projects have mainly been focused on autonomous vehicles but more recently have involved more cooperative systems. The institutional framework, however, continues to focus on basic research rather than transportation applications, and it is not connected to transportation operations or deployment.

Other European Countries

Although there are important activities on automation in other European countries, these activities have been associated with specific industry and research organizations rather than with the national governments in those countries. Both the Volvo car and truck companies in Sweden have been active in several of the prominent EC projects on automation in the hope of continuing to enhance their reputation for leadership on safety issues. Ricardo, an automotive consultancy in the United Kingdom, is leading the SARTRE truck platooning project for the EC. In Italy, the University of Parma and its spinoff company, VisLab, have been international leaders in research on computer vision technology for vehicle automation.


Japan’s government is considerably more centralized than the governments in Europe or the United States; thus, the national government has the authority to make decisions about infrastructure technology and deployment for the entire country. They also have a heavy regulatory hand on the vehicle industry, which they can force to move in a variety of directions. There is also a strong history of cooperation between government and large corporations, with the government promoting the interests of its large corporate citizens. This means that adoption of new cooperative ITS technologies can be pushed faster than in other countries.

Japan has four government ministries with interests in ITS, all with somewhat different areas of focus. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications oversees wireless communication technologies and spectrum allocations. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is responsible for the intercity highway network and for safety regulations on the vehicle industry. The National Police Agency manages traffic within the urban areas (except for the highways), and METI is responsible for the country’s economic health and for generating jobs through improving international competitiveness. It has a long–standing role as the protector of the automotive industry and has taken the lead role in the recent Energy ITS Program that is developing an automated truck platoon to save energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

Japan does not generally have the strong national research institutes or universities of the European countries, but its vehicle and electronics industries have very strong technical capabilities in their own research and development laboratories. This is typically from where the major technological advances come. The domestic Japanese consumer market is favorably inclined toward new gadgetry, even before it is mature enough to provide real value. This means that the Japanese companies can generate revenue by selling immature systems to their customers and then gradually improve the systems until they are robust enough for export to other less tolerant markets.

Japan is not a fertile ground for applying automation to transit buses, because the high-priority and high–demand transit services are all on rails rather than on rubber tires, and the buses only provide supporting feeder services or relatively low–volume services. Because the majority of Japan’s freight travels by highway, however, the trucking applications look considerably more promising. The automobile applications are more uncertain because of the peculiarities of automobile usage in Japan. Automobiles serve only limited fractions of the trips in the urban areas, because the densities are generally too high for efficient use and parking, and the urban expressways are very narrow (only two lanes each way). On the intercity highways, the congestion problems are associated with grade changes (known as sags) and with delays at the access points, where vehicle automation is not a particularly efficient or cost–effective solution compared with other alternatives.

The government and automobile companies are very interested in methods of smoothing out the speed variations at the sags and have consequently created the Smart Traffic Flow Research Consortium to develop strategies for speed harmonization. This consortium, which includes the major automotive OEMs and university researchers, focuses on strategies that are much less ambitious than vehicle automation, including the introduction of pace cars to regularize the traffic speeds, roadside variable message signs to advise drivers to maintain their speeds, V2V communications and in-vehicle displays advising drivers about the speeds they should drive, I2V speed advisories, and V2V speed controls along the lines of cooperative ACC. The consortium is also working on achieving string stability of conventional ACC vehicles, including when vehicles from different makers need to coexist in sequence. These activities were first unveiled to an international audience in Special Session 52 of the ITS World Congress in Orlando, FL, but there were no published papers or other enduring documentation provided in English.


The institutional structure in Korea is similar to the Japanese model, with a strong central government and strong automotive industry. Because its economy has developed somewhat more slowly than has Japan’s, the situation in Korea often gives the impression of being similar to Japan a few decades earlier.

The Korea Highway Corporation is responsible for the extensive toll road system in Korea and is very well–funded as a result. It has initiated a “Smart Highway” project to apply the latest ITS technologies, including cooperative systems, to its highways. After multiple contacts and inquiries, however, it appears that this project is not extending its scope beyond driver assistance systems and into full automation within the foreseeable future, so it is not directly relevant to the current project.

Some Korean universities are participating in projects and contests that involve autonomous automated road vehicles, which are somewhat outside the scope of this review, but it has not been possible to identify any cooperative automation work in Korea.


China has a centralized government structure, more so than any of the other countries considered in this report. Inquiries about work on cooperative automation systems have not yielded any leads until now. Multiple universities have been conducting research on autonomous automated vehicles and holding competitions, but there have not yet been any indications of V2V or I2V cooperation in support of automated driving.

Summary of Key Factors Overseas

Several aspects of the environments in other countries are notable, particularly for the ways in which they contrast with the U.S. environment:


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