A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to drive a new model Mercedes Benz that was equipped with a number of “smart” features – many of them for safety purposes. Equipped with numerous sensors – it alerted me when I was too close to an object both from the front and rear and also alerted me when I was switching lanes and a car was in my blind spot.

While these features were certainly useful – what if your vehicle could do more - such as “see” vehicles that you can’t see or inform you of roadway conditions and hazards that you can’t see or perhaps know the speed and location of approaching vehicles?

These types of scenarios are Connected Vehicle applications and part of what is known as Intelligent Transportation systems (ITS). In general, ITS are advanced applications which integrate telecommunications, electronics and information technologies with transport engineering in order to plan, design, operate, maintain and manage transport systems. In addition, they enable various users to be better informed and make safer, more coordinated and ‘smarter’ use of transport networks.

While most of us think of ITS as it relates to traffic management (which supports the largest number of services); the U.S. Department of Transportation has actually identified 97 services that fall into eight service major areas of ITS.

However, the present focus of most ITS activity revolves around the following: (1) Safety, (2) Traffic Management; and (3) Environmental. The Connected Vehicle addresses all of these areas.

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The Connected Vehicle

Connected vehicle applications provide connectivity between and among vehicles, infrastructure, and wireless devices to enable crash prevention; enable safety, mobility and environmental benefits; and provide continuous real-time connectivity to all system users.

According to research conducted by numerous organizations, Connected Vehicle applications could significantly reduce the following statistics:

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How Do They Work?

Connected vehicle communications uses wireless technology for communication in two areas: Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) Communications and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) Communications.

V2V works by using wireless signals to send information back and forth between cars about their location, speed and direction. V2I would allow vehicles to communicate with infrastructure such as road signs or traffic signals and provide information to the vehicle about safety issues. V2I could also request traffic information from a traffic management system to allow the user to access the best possible routes.

These technologies could not only transform the way people drive, but dramatically increase automotive safety.

The communications infrastructure to support V2V and V2I applications must meet the following requirements:

  • Dedicated licensed bandwidth
  • Fast Network Acquisition
  • Low Latency
  • High Reliability
  • Priority for Safety Applications
  • Interoperability
  • Security and Privacy:
Both V2V and V2I currently rely on the use of version 2 of the SAE J2735 DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications) message set standard, as well as IEEE 802.11p (which permits the fast link setup), the vehicle-centric IEEE 1609 series (known as 1609.x) that add wireless access in vehicular environments (WAVE) capability.

The DSRC message sets define the message content delivered by the communication system at the application layer. Non-time critical applications (those not requiring safety critical real-time throughputs) can use the DSRC protocol stack or other wireless media (e.g. 3G, 4G, LTE, etc.).

The IEEE 1609 Family of Standards for Wireless Access in Vehicular Environments (WAVE) defines the architecture, communications model, protocols, security mechanisms, network services, multichannel operation, use of Provider Service Identifiers, and how they work with the physical layer and media access layer for high speed (up to 27 Mb/s) short range (up to 1000m) low latency wireless communications in the vehicular environment. The primary architectural components defined by these standards are the On Board Unit (OBU), Road Side Unit (RSU) and WAVE interface.

However, with the introduction of LTE and its significant improvement in performance, there appears to be opportunities to complement current V2V/ V2I communications technologies.

LTE Has Strong Potential for V2x

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Earlier cellular technologies were not considered suitable for V2V or V2I due to their lack of ubiquity and performance, most notably latency. But with the rapidly increasing availability and adoption of wireless communications, particularly LTE, researchers are taking a closer look at cellular technology.

ITS America has done some initial assessments of LTE as a suitable communications technology for V2V and V2I applications, but the multi-industry Cooperative Cars Extended (CoCarX) research project (sponsored by Aktiv, a German research initiative) did some real world testing in 2011 to investigate next-generation, cooperative applications based on cellular networks.

As part of the testing, three scenarios were presented:

1. a warning message due to sudden braking of a vehicle ahead - demonstrating the low vehicle-to-vehicle delay times enabled by LTE

2. instant push of location-dependent traffic information to the driver's compartment

3. parallel video transmission to vehicles aimed at demonstrating the LTE system capacity.

The LTE standard proved to be an ideal transport medium for the services developed within the scope of the project, demonstrating low latency times of under 100 milliseconds to ensure the required short transmission and response times. Additionally, the higher system capacity as compared to previous cellular technologies enabled the provision of coverage for a large number of vehicles.

The research in CoCarX clearly showed that the cellular network can be combined with ad-hoc based approaches such as 802.11p into one heterogeneous communication system. This leverages the strengths of both systems and forms a combined, overall solution that is much more than just the sum of its parts.

Finally, it was demonstrated that multiple services could be efficiently delivered to a car using advanced session management, making it possible to bring in different services to the car over one radio connection. Each service would likely be assigned different priorities during the transmission, and each service could be separately billed, with tailored tariffs matching the business model of the respective service.

Some automobile manufacturers – such as GM have announced plans to add LTE capabilities into its automobiles. The LTE structure is specifically designed for in-vehicle use and is integrated into the vehicle’s electrical system and includes an external antenna to maximize coverage and connectivity. Although the initial services are for Wi-Fi hot spots, expanded infotainment features, real-time updates and faster application downloads, it is expected that this technology will be used for V2V and V2I applications, pulling information from the cloud.

Next on the Horizon – The Driverless Car

Pic5Driverless cars have been shown in movies for years – just remember the Johnny Cab from Total Recall. But it is Google’s driverless car that seems to be making the most noise – so much so that 4 states (Nevada, California, Texas and Florida) have actually passed laws allowing driverless vehicles on their roads.

Google's cars equipped with LiDAR (a remote sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with laser) can analyze and process information about their surroundings faster than a human can. With over 400,000 road miles under its belt, the Google Driverless Car is proving this technology is closer to reality than most people think.

And they are not alone - by 2020, GM, Audi, Nissan and BMW all expect driverless cars.

You will be assimilated…

Today, a number of new model vehicles already include some of these V2V applications – such as adaptive cruise control, lane assist, active blind spot assist; attention alert and parking assist. However, the real test is whether consumers will accept these features. The results of the driver acceptance clinics held in 6 locations in the U.S. showed that 90 percent of drivers would like to have V2V features and believe they would be useful in improving driver safety. That is certainly positive reinforcement – and the results of live testing at UMTRI should also prove valuable to assess how users are assimilating to these features.

But I can’t help but wonder if it will create lazy or perhaps I should say dependent drivers? Isn’t the point of learning to drive to know how to change lanes, park cars, and drive defensively with awareness? While I appreciated some of the V2V features, I found the alerts to be disarming and a distraction and certainly did not improve my driving skills, but perhaps that will change over time.