Communications giant Telstra has made the next big step in road safety by launching and successfully testing, for the first time in Australia, a mobile app-based technology that can predict potential car collisions and send warning alerts to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
In partnership with South Australian tech-innovation company Cohda Wireless, Telstra held a live demonstration of its Vehicle-To-Pedestrian (V2P) technology at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday, showing a cyclist in a possible crash situation with a car heading towards them and the mobile alerts that can be sent to prevent a collision.
The technology has the potential to carry over into real-life situations, such as cars approaching blind corners or pedestrian crossings where unseen cyclists or pedestrians could pose as a crash risk and comes as part of Telstra's Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) project.
The technology is in the early stages of development. Drivers, riders and pedestrians would currently need to take their eyes off the road to see an alert on their mobile phone, but the developing partners hope future iterations of the technology will be embedded into vehicles.
Wednesday's launch also followed a series of other demonstrations held by Telstra and Cohda, including a Vehicle-To-Infrastructure (V2I) trial in October 2016 and a Vehicle-To-Vehicle (V2V) test in February this year.
Telstra chief technology officer Håkan Eriksson said in a statement: "The most important outcome of V2X technology is the increased safety for road users, as the impact of human error can be minimised by helping vehicles communicate with each other and react to their surroundings.
"This is the first time V2P technology has been trialled in Australia on a 4G network, and is an important step on the journey to fully-autonomous vehicles on Australian roads.
"As operators of Australia's largest and fastest mobile network, we believe Telstra's 4G and future 5G networks can play a vital role in supporting the faster roll-out of intelligent transport systems and V2X applications, making implementation of the technology cheaper and more efficient."
How does it work?
According to Eriksson, V2X technology works based on the mobile GPS network service provided by Telstra across Australia in order to send an early collision detection warning that rings out as an alert in a mobile app to cyclists, pedestrians and drivers while on the road so that they can stop or change their direction.
On the app itself, which is still in development and yet to be released for consumers, individuals appear on the interface as coloured dots and are tracked as they move so that, if at any point, they cross-over and are at risk of an accident, they can be warned.
Based on the speed at which an individual is travelling, the technology predicts where they will be in the seconds to come and can judge whether that path will collide with the path of another car, cyclist or pedestrian.
Chief engineer at Cohda Wireless, Fabien Cure told HuffPost Australia the technology works in environments ranging from the CBDs of capital cities to the open areas of rural locations and can alert individuals within seven seconds of a potential crash.
"If two cars [are travelling towards each other] at 60km/h, within seven seconds of a collision, you need to alert the driver," he said.
"We can adjust the app so that if you're travelling higher in speeds, you can make alerts appear at, say, 10 seconds so that the app will be warning ahead instead of just saying 'stop now', so there are different applications [of the technology] for different scenarios."
Why is this important?
Semi-professional cyclist and member of the Specialised Securitor Women's Team, Verita Stewart took part in Wednesday's demonstration and told HuffPost Australia the new technology can work as an additional "safety net" for cyclists looking to avoid incidents while on Australia's roads.
"I think this technology is really cool mainly because it gives cyclists and pedestrians that second barrier," she said.
"It gives you [up to] 20 seconds of warning before a potential danger is about to happen and we're so vulnerable out on the road every day that having that extra safety net is really good.
"It is really important that this app is getting out there. With so many people and so many road users, I think, with growth, often there needs to be something to help everyone get along together and create harmony on the roads and I think an app like this is just the start."
Stewart also said she believes the technology is something that could change the nature of interactions between road users around the country simply because it can increase a person's reaction time to unexpected crash risks, but that being cautious is always the best method of safety.
"It's going to change the way drivers and cyclists use the road, mainly because it gives you that little bit of warning time," she said.
"For a car, if you're driving along you're not always expecting a cyclist to pop out or you might not see a pedestrian looking at their phone as they're crossing the road, so from a car's perspective having that alert pop up might make you that little bit more aware.
"With all things, you have to go with caution. An app is not going to solve problems, it's not going to solve the human error side of things, it's just another added aspect that helps along the way."
At the trial in Adelaide, South Australian Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Stephen Mullighan also said the technology has the potential to lower casualty numbers on Australian roads and raise further awareness around safe driving.
"We've long been supporters of connected and autonomous vehicle technology here in South Australia and we know the benefits it's likely to bring to our community -- reduced congestion on our roads, improved mobility options for South Australians -- but importantly, road safety," he said.
"We see the development of this sort of technology which can prevent collisions from occurring between cars and pedestrians or cyclists [as] a real game changer."
Are there any issues?
While the V2P trial showed users needing to momentarily take their eyes off the road to see mobile alerts, Erikkson said a future app could be evolved to include further crash-prevention measures, such as self-braking cars or vibrating warnings in helmets pinpointing the direction of potential risks in relation to a car or person.
"So far we are only doing the detection but we can imagine that in the future we could do further things to avoid [crash situations] such as braking the car," he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
He also said that, while the app itself is still being developed, the amount of time before the technology is available on mainstream markets for car users is dependent on manufacturers.
"An obvious question that I got many times was 'when will we have this?' It will take time to get it installed into all of the cars because this will be part of a future intelligent cars," he said.
"To get it installed on your phone will be easy -- if you have the right type of phone you will be able to download the app -- but of course it also has to be in the cars.
"If you want to have it any time soon, you have to start influencing the car industry early, so we're saying 'you can download the app, we have the mobile network, let's see how you get it into the platform' so that's a big part of the future of intelligent vehicles."
The reporter travelled to Adelaide as a guest of Telstra.