V2V finally on its way, but is it too late?
V2V development has focused on dedicated short-range communication, but it has critics.
After more than a decade’s worth of research, development and investment, the dawn of the connected car appears imminent.
In addition to the mandate for vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed this month, the Department of Transportation is actively developing guidance for vehicle-to-infrastructure communication and testing that technology in areas across the country. The first V2V-enabled vehicle will hit dealerships next year as well, the 2017 Cadillac CTS.
“This rule is something that has been contemplated for more than 12 years,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in announcing the mandate. “From a safety perspective, this is a no-brainer.”
But even as the dream of connected cars inches closer, many regulatory and infrastructure challenges remain. Perhaps most significant are concerns that technological development soon will shift away from the radio-based technology underlying NHTSA’s rule — known as dedicated short-range communication — making the mandate outdated by the time it takes effect.
NHTSA estimates that up to 1,321 lives a year could be saved by V2V-related applications once the mandate is in full effect. Assuming it is adopted in 2019, all new vehicles will be fully equipped with communication technology by 2023.
But critics say the possible seven-year gap before that penetration is achieved could mean the U.S. fleet will be propping up technology that’s already on its way out.
“There are serious limitations to [dedicated short-range communication] technology,” said Roger Lanctot, an analyst with Strategy Analytics and a vocal proponent of using newer cellular technology, the kind that powers smartphone communication, instead.
The prospect of 5G cellular networks is tantalizing to vehicle connectivity experts. This year, Audi, BMW and Daimler formed an association with telecom firms Qualcomm, Huawei, Ericsson, Intel and Nokia to study the potential of 5G networks for future fleets.
“We expect 5G to become the worldwide dominating mobile communications standard of the next decade,” Christoph Grote, senior vice president for electronics at BMW, said in a release announcing the alliance.
One distinct advantage of cellular, Lanctot said, is the already-built infrastructure in the form of cell towers.
For the current V2V mandate to deliver on its full potential, cities and states would need to roll out dedicated short-range receivers on highways and at intersections to interact with connected cars. Until now, that infrastructure has been limited to test sites. This year, the Transportation Department launched pilot projects in New York City, Wyoming and Tampa, Fla., to build out connected infrastructure, but questions remain on how it will penetrate the rest of the U.S. and where the funding will come from.
Additionally, advocates of cellular technology point to potential functionality that is either impossible or more difficult with the short-range communication.
One example is device-to-device communication. This technology bypasses network infrastructure so that, for example, cars and pedestrians’ smartphones can communicate directly to avoid possible accidents.
NHTSA regulators evaluated cellular and other communication technologies such as satellite and Wi-Fi but dismiss them as unprepared for implementation today.
Dedicated short-range communication “is the only wireless technology capable of meeting requirements,” said Ken Leonard, the Transportation Department’s chief of intelligent transportation systems, at an industry conference in Detroit last month. “I hear a lot of discussion that 5G is going to come, but I don’t know when, whether it’s ’18, ’20 or ’25.”
Industry insiders who have worked on developing the rules and standards of dedicated short-range communication for years view these discussions as a distraction.
The technology is the “only game in town,” said Gary Smith, General Motors’ global r&d director. “Not to do it now, it’s an opportunity that we’re squandering.”
These discussions promise to intensify as the 90-day comment period on NHTSA’s rule commences. The proposed mandate allows carmakers to achieve similar effects with “other technologies that meet certain performance and interoperability requirements,” and Smith underscores that V2V-enabled cars will need to be adaptable and backward-compatible with a range of communications technology.
The verdict is out on how these technologies will work together, not only in the car but in the overall transportation ecosystem. While Foxx and NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind positioned the mandate as the end of a long development process, its introduction also could portend a boom in communications work across the industry.