It was a big week for telecom companies that got into cycling. A few days ago, it was Vodafone who brought out a bicycle light with GPS tracking and a SIM card; now Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra, is unveiling a 5G-enabled headset that “gives cyclists the power to see around the bends.”
Let’s break this down.
The Telstra Heads Up Helmet project is a collaboration between Telstra and Australian start-up Arenberg, a brand known for its cycling clothing. Arenberg provided the helmet – the next crowdfunding Road helmet A which the brand describes as “the world’s first on-road performance helmet with built-in live video streaming capabilities.” Telstra provided additional technology, 5G connectivity and data processing which is at the heart of the project.
The system works by capturing video from the headset and then feeding that data to Telstra’s data processing and analytics cloud via a 5G-capable phone. Once processed, the video data is then combined with other relevant data from nearby vehicles.
“The information is then transmitted to a cyclist via a speaker in the helmet to provide real-time safety information, alerts and warnings” written Gianpaolo Carraro, Head of Incubation and Product Excellence at Telstra. “It’s more than just giving cyclists eyes in the back of their heads: it gives them the ability to see around bends where traffic is stopped, and even helps them predict the future.
Before proceeding further, it is helpful to understand how the system retrieves data from other vehicles.
For years now, Telstra – and indeed many other tech companies – have been working in the so-called “Vehicle at all” (V2X) space, by testing and developing technology that will link vehicles to each other and to road infrastructure such as traffic lights. The data collected and shared between these nodes can help improve the efficiency of traffic flow and improve the safety of network users.
Håkan Eriksson, then CTO of Telstra, gave an example of the technology’s potential in an article from 2018 on the company’s website.
“If a test vehicle ahead performs emergency braking, it will send this message to a car equipped with the following V2X – potentially before a forward collision radar or the driver notices the event”, a- he writes. “In these situations, a few milliseconds can make a huge difference. “
Nikos Katinakis, group leader of Telstra’s network and IT department, provided another example of the benefits of connected vehicles and infrastructure: “Vehicles could also detect red light violations, which are received from vehicles that may be on the road. point of entering an active intersection against the light. ,” he wrote.
In 2018, Telstra started a trial involving two vehicles that were running Cellular V2X setups. In 2020, this technology was used by more than 500 connected vehicles in a project of the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.
Which brings us back to the helmet prototype, announced this week.
The project was rolled out with a captivating two-minute video featuring Australian velodrome queen, 11-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Anna Meares. In the video (which you can see above), Meares walks up to an intersection where the helmet beeps at him and says “car left”, warning him of a vehicle that is about to enter. in the intersection at high speed. In the video, the advanced warning gives her a chance to stop in time.
Audio alerts (via the headset’s bone conduction headphones) can also alert the user to nearby accidents, traffic jams and road works. Perhaps most promising, however, the Telstra Heads Up helmet can apparently warn the rider that the car doors are opening in front.
“When a driver or passenger opens their door, the real-time video of the bicycle helmet is sent over 5G and analyzed in a cloud platform, where the danger of opening the car door is identified”, writes Carraro. “The platform then sends an audio alert to the rider to react to the weather, thanks to the ultra-low latency connectivity offered by our 5G network.”
Telstra says the impetus for this project came from an increase in the number of cyclists during the COVID-19 pandemic – a 270% increase in Melbourne alone, according to the phone company. Telstra wanted to do its part to make sure that the increase in the number of cyclists does not mean the increase in the number of cyclists Fatality Numbers. “When we saw the issue of cyclist safety take center stage, we knew we could do more,” writes Carraro.
Of course, this project also aims to show Telstra’s 5G technology, which it started to deploy on its cellular network in 2018. With this project (and others like it) Telstra is keen to show that 5G can be used for much more than high-speed web browsing and video streaming on the go.
“5G won’t just change the future of cycling, I think it will change the future of transportation as a whole,” said Todd Essery, head of innovation at Telstra Labs. “Connected cars, connected trucks, connected cyclists, vehicles that start talking at traffic lights – all of them are really working cooperatively, and 5G is a big catalyst for that. “
Again, it should be noted that the idea of vehicles communicating with each other on the road is not entirely new. V2X protocols have been around since from 2010 and Toyota started installing it in cars in 2016 (but stopped a few years later when other manufacturers did not come to the party). But compared to 4G protocols used in previous years, the low latency and faster data speeds available through 5G (at least 100 Mbps, 5 to 10 times the speed of 4G) should allow these systems to perform much better. close to real time.
So how excited should cyclists be about this development?
The technology certainly looks promising in the video, but there is a difference between smooth marketing production and the reality of riding the open road. How fast is the communication really? Is the system really able to capture video of an opening car door, send it to the cloud, pass it through Telstra’s machine learning model, then send an audio alert to the rider in less time than it takes for the rider to see the door open? I will probably remain skeptical until I see it in action myself.
There is also a question about the range of the signal. While 5G is available in many major cities, coverage is far from ubiquitous. What happens to this technology in an area outside of 5G coverage?
It may not be a problem. Eriksson wrote about this same problem in the context of 4G in 2018. “The strength of Cellular V2X technology is that it combines both short-range radios (which allow vehicles to communicate directly with each other in using cellular technology, but without going through a cellular network) and 4G-based broad mobile communications when available, ”he wrote. “So even in the event that there is no mobile coverage, the most urgent safety messages will still be transmitted and help save lives. “
The same is probably true with 5G.
Interestingly, the response of cyclists to the Telstra x Arenberg project has been quite negative until now. Judging by comments on social media and the website, there is a feeling that this technology is forcing cyclists to go further in order to protect their own safety.
Many suggest that the focus should instead be on developing better cycling infrastructure, teaching drivers to watch cyclists before opening their car doors, or developing technology that detects cyclists and prevents the doors from opening in their path.
All of these concerns are valid, and yet they miss the point. Yes, work is needed in all of these areas, but that does not make the Telstra x Arenberg project any less interesting or less important. It is not an “one or the other” situation. If cycling is to be made safer in the future, it will be through a series of developments, some social, many of them technological. The work Telstra and Arenberg are doing here is an important part of the overall puzzle.
The potential here is great. A road network where all vehicles and infrastructure are connected will have great benefits for safety, traffic efficiency and energy consumption, especially when we consider autonomous vehicles (AV).
While the deployment of VAs is taking longer than expected (in large part due to a quagmire of regulatory issues), this technology, once generalized, will allow a significant leap forward for road safety. After all, human error is a contributing factor in over 90% of road accidents. Combine AV with technology like the Telstra Heads Up helmet project and cycling just might be safer than ever.
(* Imagine a road network where all motor vehicles are autonomous and connected to each other, and to the traffic light control system. Vehicles could travel from bumper to bumper in convoy (saving fuel through traction), with any braking performed at the front of the line communicated instantly to the vehicles behind. Traffic light signals can be customized in real time to account for the number of vehicles coming from each direction, thereby optimizing flow circulation.)
Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done. The Telstra x Arenberg headset is only a prototype, V2X technology is really still in the testing phase and AVs are still years away from ubiquity. For a technology like the Telstra Heads Up helmet to be viable (and actually useful), we need cars everywhere to be equipped with V2X technology. This will require the cooperation of car manufacturers who, at this stage, have little incentive to cover the high costs of developing such features. Getting to this point will take years, and most likely a legislative push.
Yet the potential is there. And the work being done now by Telstra and Arenberg, and others like them, is an important and exciting step along the way.
CyclingTips would like to thank VeloClub member Julian Del Beato for his invaluable help in preparing this article.