Vehicle–to-infrastructure tech moves forward05 Jun 2012 | Jessica Royer Ockenis
The U.S. government, particularly the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is "taking a lead" in advancing the technology, stated Stephen Longden, an ITS and telematics specialist with SBD in England: "They're prepared to put up some funding, do some demos, and they've started to talk about legislation to require OEMs to [equip their vehicles for V2X]."
There's also interest in bringing V2X technology applications into vehicles in Europe, but there the auto manufacturers, namely the Car 2 Car Communication Consortium (C2C-CC), leading the push. They are investing time and money, and the "[European] Commission is chasing along after them," added Longden. "[Everyone] realizes it's a logical next step for the technology."
Further evidence of this unified interest is the fact that all these auto manufacturers and governments have agreed on the technology standards necessary to make V2X communications work. "Usually the different regions have their own mainly commercial axes to grind, but certainly the United States and Europe have come to convergence on 5.9GHz technology."
Japan is doing something different, but that's almost always the case, he noted.
However, as in-car applications for V2X data are being developed, safety-related uses have risen to the forefront, and questions about how to deliver alerts reliably and accessibly have complicated the process. In order to speed the implementation of in-car V2X as well as lower the cost of doing so, GM is experimenting with a variety of delivery methods—from embedded vehicle systems to standalone transponders to smartphone-based applications.
"If we can leverage existing customer devices to provide information, that lowers the overall investment required to get this technology out there," expressed Don Grimm, senior researcher for GM's perception and vehicle control systems group.
Although a smartphone-based system can integrate with a vehicle and deliver information through onboard displays, "What if you leave it at home? What if it goes dead?" Grimm asks. And because of smartphones' open platforms, users may install any apps they want, and there's no guarantee the V2X app would get priority, he added.
For this reason, V2X apps for smartphone-based systems fall more into the category of "information that's nice to have, such as a pothole or curve ahead, versus something embedded that can be validated to provide critical safety information, and we know it will work at high level," Grimm indicated.
Dashboard transponders have a closed platform and would operate more like an embedded system, particularly if wired to have access to the vehicle's stability control system. But questions remain about the business sense of developing an OEM-specific transponder or an aftermarket version that could be placed in a variety of vehicles.
"Today, GM has Onstar embedded and also Onstar aftermarket that can be installed in other vehicles, so that's in line with what we could do with transponders," stated Grimm. "That's a future business decision."
This perpetual deference to the future represents perhaps the biggest challenge to effective in-car V2X technology. "It's a classic chicken-and-egg situation," noted Longden. Manufacturers can't yet tout the benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology for drivers of their vehicles, because until a critical mass of outfitted cars is reached, the system won't work. "We haven't identified a really strong business case due to this," Grimm said.
And that's just to have cars communicating with each other. Adding V2X communication brings even more complication. Longden revealed that V2V is a relatively simple technology issue. "As long as you have suppliers and vehicle manufacturers agreeing on standards and implementation you can move forward."
But to communicate with infrastructure as well, road operators, traffic equipment suppliers and assorted governing bodies must also agree.
Then there's the matter of paying for these added roadside sensors and communication modules. Basic upkeep is already an issue for many roads, so who pays for installing and maintaining the V2X system? And who is liable when it doesn't work?
In the long term, if V2X really worked and reduced the number of crashes, it would save governments money. "But governments are not great at long-term thinking," Longden reckoned. "If we get to point where half or all vehicles are equipped with V2X technology, we might not need traffic lights or signals," he added, projecting into the long-term future. "We could start controlling vehicles through the communication system and won't need something as old fashioned as traffic signals, which are really expensive."
For now, the best hopes for an in-car V2X future seem to be rooted in either a government mandate or a bundled business model, added Longden.
V2X for infotainment?
Not many vehicle manufacturers are talking about V2X for infotainment at this point because they're so focused on safety, he explained, but in terms of a business model, "How will you get people to pay? That's where infotainment becomes more interesting."
Begin with some enhanced traffic information, an immediate benefit, and that gets the equipment into the car. The additional V2X capabilities can lie dormant until it's time to activate them later.
But with all the other infotainment options on the market now, even that may not be enough. It could take legislation. "Generally, vehicle manufacturers don't like governments telling them what to do, but in this case it may be the best way to get enough vehicles fitted to see benefits," said Longden.
And just when might this become reality? "That's the million-dollar question," said Grimm. "We keep inching forward." GM's V2X-equipped demo vehicles look just like production models now, he reports—no special antennas or trunk full of additional equipment. "We've just got some business issues to work through, but it looks like strong momentum," he added. "A lot of people are looking at four or five years for the first deployment. Before the end of the decade for sure."
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