When it comes to developing new technologies, running a competition is always a good way of helping to speed progress. Not only do such events give researchers more of an incentive to develop their ideas to the fullest, but they also give them a chance to see and be inspired by what other people in their field have been working on. While last year's Automotive X-PRIZE helped usher in utra-efficient yet practical automobiles, hopefully this weekend's Grand Cooperative Driving Challenge will do the same for cars utilizing cooperative adaptive cruise control (CACC).

Although the Grand Cooperative Driving Challenge (GCDC) began with a three-day technical workshop for the competing teams in January, the actual on-road competition will take place this Saturday and Sunday (May 14-15) in Helmond, The Netherlands. Eleven teams from nine countries will compete in cooperative driving challenges, each driving their own CACC-equipped vehicles on a stretch of the A270 motorway – an array of 48 poles and control boxes have been installed along the road, upon which cameras, GPS and other communications devices have been mounted.

CACC involves the use of onboard sensors for measuring the distance between vehicles, so that they can follow closely (yet safely) behind one another in order to both reduce wind resistance, and fit more cars on less road. It also incorporates wireless communications, allowing cars to communicate with one another and with roadside traffic monitoring equipment, thus coordinating their movements and minimizing traffic congestion and accidents. It is this aspect of the technology that separates it from regular adaptive cruise control, in which vehicles independently monitor one another and brake in order to avoid collisions, but don't communicate or work with one another.

In order to keep all the teams on the same playing field, a standard interaction protocol for coding and decoding messages was established at the January workshop.

This weekend's challenges will consist of predetermined traffic scenarios, which the teams will have to use their vehicles' CACC systems to negotiate as efficiently as possible. These scenarios will include the sudden deceleration of a leading car in a group of closely-following vehicles, and various situations in which the team cars have to communicate both with each other, and with the roadside infrastructure system.

The GCDC judges will be looking at how traffic flow is improved by each team's actions, and the speed at which those improvements are made.