Cars and trucks will start talking to each other in the very near future. They will inform themselves about exact position, speed, and even driver intention, and they’ll be able to communicate with nearby pedestrians. The way they achieve this is not settled technology, but you can bet it won’t involve Pixar Imagineering.
Much like the Internet of Things, this new technology all comes under the broad umbrella heading of vehicle-to-everything communications (V2X), which includes vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and vehicle-to-pedestrian.
At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford announced how it will go about implementing this technology with its vehicles. The automaker will use a cellular radio-based system developed in conjunction with Qualcomm and other manufacturers (Audi and Ducati motorcycles). The company also announced a hard timeline for the rollout, beginning in 2022.
How Does Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything Communication (C-V2X) Work?
Because the world needs more acronyms (said no one ever), Ford references its new cellular-based technology as C-V2X because it runs on new 5G cellular networks. However, signals need not travel to a 5G tower first. They are directly communicated between vehicles, infrastructure, and even pedestrians.
A necessary precursor to autonomous driving capability, C-V2X gives vehicles fitted with the technology the ability to communicate with other vehicles and the surrounding environment. It can adapt to a non-communicating vehicle (perhaps older, without the technology) that disobeys a traffic rule, like a stop sign or a traffic light. And it can communicate with pedestrians through their smartphones.
Here’s an example. Imagine three cars meet at a four-way stop. Two of the three have C-V2X capability. One of them does not stop at the intersection and blows through it. The other two recognize that before it actually happens, and either alerts those drivers to stop immediately or, through autonomous capabilities (if the car is so equipped), those cars stop themselves and avert a collision.
Here’s another example. A man is looking at his cell phone and steps into a crosswalk without checking for traffic. A C-V2X-equipped vehicle can alert that pedestrian and can alert the drivers of other vehicles approaching the pedestrian. Injury averted.
Through C-V2X, vehicles can also electronically see around corners for oncoming or dangerous traffic conditions. In fact, China has a mandate coming in the next couple of years to have this capability in place. Emergency vehicles equipped with the technology could alert other C-V2X-equipped vehicles along their route, moving traffic out of the way in advance of their arrival.
C-V2X or DSRC? Is This the Next Blu-Ray or HD-DVD War?
While the major benefit of C-V2X networking is direct communications between vehicles, infrastructure, plus other users of the road not connected through their vehicles (like pedestrians), C-V2X is not just a safety benefit to the entire mobility equation in cities and suburban areas. Some think that C-V2X use will enable close-proximity convoying of vehicles on highways to save fuel, too.
China will actually be the first country to deploy C-V2X due to a mandate by the government. Automakers including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Peugeot, Tesla, and Toyota all generally support the development of such intelligent systems, though Toyota prefers a short-range technical solution called DSRC, which stands for dedicated short-range communications.
In April 2018, Toyota announced it would deploy DSRC throughout its car lineup in America beginning in 2021. GM has actually had DSRC on the Cadillac CTS starting with the 2017 model year but has not moved forward with it in other models. And now, with Audi, Ducati, and Ford formally going with C-V2X, it’s clear the industry must make a choice.
Another wrinkle? While many automakers support it, some cities that have a challenging financial reality are reticent to invest money in an intangible layer of technology to their infrastructure. It’s a hard case to make in the political realm when an infrastructural investment does not bear widened roads, more light rail access, or somehow alleviate traffic snarls with extra road building.
But one company, Applied Information, cites that it has intelligent transportation infrastructure (traffic controls, beacons at school zones, plus emergency vehicle fitments that trigger red lights, for example) through LTE-enabled C-V2X installations in over 500 American cities, school districts, counties, and states.
Despite having two incompatible technologies (C-V2X and DSRC), more and more municipalities and states have begun installing roadside vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. Many of these are DSRC units, but they can easily be upgraded to C-V2X in the future.
So, regardless of the minor skirmishes along the way, implementation of these technologies is already underway, which means city traffic might become safer quicker than you think.