Science & technology

The future of driving is here

Associate Professor Dr Glenford Mapp theorises on the advent of fully automated road vehicles and how they will make a difference to our lives

Glenford-MappMiddlesex University’s Department of Computer Science has established the UK’s first academic VANET Research Testbed. Associate Professor Dr Glenford Mapp discusses how Vehicular Ad-Hoc Networks are set to revolutionise our transport systems.

Imagine you are driving home after a long day in the dark and fog. The driver in the vehicle two cars ahead suddenly slams on the brakes. However, instead of waiting for you to notice, your car immediately tells you what has occurred so you react in time.

Imagine you are driving down a busy London street. An accident occurs two streets away, but your car already knows this and reroutes your journey at the next junction to avoid the traffic.

Imagine you are approaching a traffic light signalling red to stop. As you near it, your car tells you the light will change to green in two seconds so you don’t need to stop.

Vehicular Ad-Hoc Network

These scenarios may sound far-fetched, but the technology to do these things is currently being developed and deployed. Known as a Vehicular Ad-Hoc Network (VANET), this technology could be about to bring about the next information revolution – allowing us to have connected driverless cars, autonomous trains and always-locatable planes.

In the future all forms of transport will be connected and able to exchange information with each other to make our travel faster, safer and easier. These Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are fast becoming a major requirement in the development of the Smart Cities of the future.

Figure 1: Showing a VANET System
Figure 1: Showing a VANET System

By now you’re probably asking how this is all possible. The answer is pretty simple.

VANETs allow us to integrate our transport and communication infrastructures through communication devices deployed along the road as shown in Figure 1.  These units are called Roadside Units (RSUs). The RSUs talk to a device in your car called an Onboard Unit (OBU).

OBUs can exchange information with RSUs as well as with each other, and because VANETs have been engineered to deliver information quickly and reliably they can be used in a number of safety-critical areas such as collision avoidance, accident notification and disaster management.

Zugo electric car concept (Creative commons: Milos Paripovic)
Zugo electric car concept (Creative Commons 2.0: Milos Paripovic –

VANETs will also allow us to deliver infotainment applications such as video, live news, games and so on directly to your car. In fact, new systems are being developed that will allow applications to migrate seamlessly from your mobile phone to your car and back again as you move around.

The Middlesex University VANET Research Testbed

At Middlesex University we are seeking to be at the centre of this revolution by creating the Middlesex VANET Research Testbed. The first Academic VANET Research Testbed in the UK, our Testbed is located at our Hendon Campus in London and has four Roadside Units mounted on various buildings, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: The Middlesex VANET Research Testbed at Hendon Campus, London
Figure 2: The Middlesex VANET Research Testbed at the London Campus

The Middlesex VANET Trial

Our work on VANETs recently featured in the IEEE Communications Magazine on future communication systems. We are currently conducting a trial to test our VANET Research Network and want to involve as many people as we can.

If you are happy to get involved, we will put an OBU in your vehicle for at least one day and ask you to drive around Hendon at specific times to get an idea of the traffic in the area around the Hendon Campus. We also have OBUs for cyclists and pedestrians.

Middlesex University has also been awarded a Transportation Research Innovation Grant by the Department for Transport (DfT) to extend the VANET Research Testbed to Watford Way (A41) behind our Hendon Campus (see Figure 3). We are currently working with Transport for London (TfL) and DfT to make this happen.

Figure 3: The Extended Middlesex Testbed including A41 (Watford Way)
Figure 3: The Extended Middlesex Testbed including A41 (Watford Way)

But it’s not all about transport. VANETs will help us build better communication networks that are resilient, more adaptable and will allow people to communicate based on the new 4As paradigm: Anytime, Anywhere, Anyhow and Anything.

VANETs are here, and they are here to stay.

If you would like to take part in our MDX VANET Trial, please get in touch with Arindam Ghosh.

If you want to find out more, please visit our VANET Research webpage at

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