For those just being introduced to the concept, Vehicle to Vehicle Communication is the latest advancement in what has been dubbed “The Internet of Things.” When Edison invented the first generator he went about inventing as many things as he could that plugged in. Well, the next revolution is here. By creating a formal way (peer to peer network of sorts) for light vehicles to speak to each other they can share all sorts of data, starting with their location relative to each other.
The eventual benefit, as car autonomy technology continues to improve, is that cars will automatically avoid each other. Even before that technology is truly in place, however, warning lights and sounds can radically reduce vehicle to vehicle collisions. Up to 80% of accidents according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), who originally called for V2V to become standard on new cars, back in 2014.
But the coming V2V network will also include other information such as road conditions, traffic changes, and safety information. Imagine that you’re driving on a rural road at night and you round a corner only to narrowly miss a family of deer that stumble out in front of you. You slam on your brakes and swerve, disaster avoided. But what about that senior citizen that you just passed a few minutes ago? Isn’t there a way they might be warned? Well, soon it could be automatically done for you when your car detects your evasive maneuver and notifies cars in both directions of a need for caution.
The rule proposal was issued by the US Department of Transportation in December of 2016. According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “This long promised V2V rule is the next step…Once deployed, V2V will provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road…”
A couple challenges lay ahead for manufacturers. First, a standard must exist so that all cars talk to each other regardless of make. The US DOT is already working with automakers to accomplish this. Guidelines for V2I technology (or Vehicle to Infrastructure) will come from the Federal Highway Administration. This addition will add work zones, traffic lights, and crosswalks to the items your car will detect.
Obviously, safety is the major push behind this technology, but an added advantage could be increasing the number of cars on the road at any one time. Think about the impact this increased communication between cars could have on things like lane changes. If you put your blinker on and the car in your blind spot alerts its driver to back off temporarily road capacity increases.
The plan is to use dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) transmitting up to ten times a second to nearby vehicles. We’ve been covering the topic of automated cars, and plan to publish our update this Friday. It will go a bit more in-depth on the sensor based adaptive cruise control but the difference here is that DSRC can provide information from a dozen yards beyond the reach of any sensor, and it won’t be impacted by weather and light conditions. That’s why its heavily endorsed by organizations such as The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. With 35,000 vehicle-related fatalities in 2016, an 80% reduction represents the population of a small town saved every twelve months.
Cynics point out the potential downsides of relying on such technology. For one thing, if you’ve ever dropped a phone call you know the potential to have a signal loss. Imagine if the computer on board your computer misinterpreted that signal loss. Eventually, that could be accounted for, but in the short run, drivers would need to remain vigilant.
Another potential of this technology, which few experts are talking about, is the potential to use it as a speed governor or automatic ticket writing machine. Imagine if you’re going 55 mph in a 50 mph deserted stretch of road at 11 pm taking your pregnant wife to the hospital because she just went into labor. The city government has decided they will begin construction in a particular block soon and dropped the official speed limit to 35 mph. There’s not a road cone or barricade in sight but your car knows, and it slows you down to 35. You curse and disengage the safety feature so you can return to speed. You futuristic car sends a notice to the authorities and they mail you a large ticket.
It’s a pretty convoluted scene from a very hypothetical future, but it’s an example of the sort of personal autonomy that goes away when we don’t plan well during the development of new technologies. Several consumer advocacy groups have asked the FCC to forbid using DSRC in the 5.9GHz Spectrum because of the risk vehicles could be hacked and manufacturers could collect and use data without permission.
The potential cost per vehicle isn’t inhibitive at under $300, but manufacturers have their own reservations, noting that they would have to work closely with the DOT to make certain DSRC could be rolled out effectively at scale. The current schedule, if it stays on track would put the rule in place in 2021, with the all new vehicles required to have it by 2023.
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
US Department of Transportation