Tech’splaining: Vehicle-to-X (V2X) Communication

  • Brian Leon is a freelance automotive journalist and former Associate Editor of the New York Daily News Autos. He is currently a master student at Uppsala University in Sweden studying marketing and completing a thesis in the area of trust in autonomous vehicles.

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For autonomous vehicles to finally become a full-fledged reality, there’s one acronym you may never have heard of, but might be the most important technology development on the road to a driverless future: V2X.

In short, V2X stands for “Vehicle-to-X” or “Vehicle-to-Everything” communication, and while radar, LIDAR, and other systems get the bulk of coverage in the development of autonomous vehicles, V2X is what will allow everything around us to support driverless cars, trucks, and SUVs in the future.

Several companies – automakers, parts suppliers, and startups alike – are hard at work developing V2X systems, from Mercedes-Benz with their “Car-to-X” technology to German parts giant Bosch, which plans to develop a widespread system for use in as many vehicles as possible. And while this may all start to sound like science fiction, several vehicles on the road today already make use of some form of V2X technology.

Without further ado, allow me to “tech’splain” the ins and outs of V2X.

What is Vehicle-to-X (V2X) Communication?

How V2V Technology Works
Several automakers, parts suppliers, and startups are already developing V2X systems for use as soon as possible, including German parts giant Bosch. (Bosch).

As explained above, V2X broadly means “Vehicle-to-Everything” connectivity but includes many different forms of communication technology under that broad umbrella.

Without getting too deep into the nitty-gritty, it uses a dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) system that allows very high data transmission rates between points up to 1,000 feet apart. Think of it as a Wi-Fi network between two objects, be it vehicles, infrastructure, or even our own smartphones.

Already, though, a technology battle is brewing. Ford recently announced its C-V2X technology at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show. In partnership with Qualcomm, it uses emerging 5G cellular platforms to directly communicate with other vehicles, surrounding infrastructure, and pedestrians.

Moving on, Vehicle-to-X includes Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I), and even Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P) connectivity, giving every piece of technology within a vehicle’s environment the ability for two-way communication up to 10 times a second. Everything from speed and GPS location to the size and condition of a vehicle is a part of the data stream.

So, how would that work? Imagine for a minute that you’re driving along your normal route to work when a collision occurs a mile up the road at an intersection. With V2V communication, the vehicles involved in the collision would not only be able to contact emergency services but would also send a warning signal to all V2X-equipped cars, trucks, and SUVs within a range that a collision has occurred, and to exercise caution in proceeding to the intersection.

Beyond that, each vehicle that received the message could then transmit it to every vehicle down the line in traffic via V2V, and the traffic lights at the intersection where the collision occurred would receive a transmission from the vehicles involved via V2I. This would allow city services to locate the collision immediately and transmit a warning to any vehicle on the grid with traffic information and other pertinent facts.

That’s one specific scenario, but the ramifications are much broader. Vehicles able to communicate with our smartphones would be able to sense when we approach a crosswalk as a pedestrian, for example, potentially avoiding dangerous situations by alerting the driver of an approaching vehicle or notifying a driverless car to stop.

Why do we Need V2X Technology?

Cars Wait for Pedestrian in Crosswalk
In addition to other vehicles, V2X technology will allow cars and trucks to communicate with infrastructure and even pedestrians via a smartphone. (Ford)

From cutting down on traffic to finding an open parking spot, the uses for V2X technology are myriad and could improve the ways we get around. Chances are, if you’ve ever driven on American roads, you’ve spent too much time in traffic. With V2X technology, every vehicle in a traffic jam would be able to know what each vehicle in front of and around it was doing, reducing the “accordion effect” in stop-and-go traffic and theoretically moving everyone along faster and more efficiently.

When autonomous vehicles eventually reach our roads, V2X systems will be absolutely essential. As driverless cars rely on as much data as possible – radar, speed and position sensors, cameras, and more – the ability for vehicles to communicate with each other and with the grid is critical to making these vehicles safer, more efficient, and smarter.

Of course, with more connectivity all around us, the eternal question remains: how safe and secure is this technology?

The short answer is that as the technology is developed, V2X systems will become more resistant to weather- or infrastructure-based issues, as well as the threat of hacking.

There’s also the consideration that even as more modern vehicles adopt this technology, not every car or truck on the road will be equipped with V2X abilities, a situation parts suppliers like Bosch are trying to remedy. By developing a standardized unit that can use all the popular transmission technologies and be retrofitted to older vehicles or included in new models, the German parts giant aims to bring V2X to as many vehicles as possible. The more vehicles on the road with this technology, the more effective it will be overall.

When Will V2X Be Available on Your Vehicle?

2019 Mercedes-Benz E450 Gray at Speed
Some modern vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class already include some V2X technologies. While the E-Class can only communicate with other Mercedes models, this will be expanded to other vehicles across brands in the future. (Mercedes-Benz)

Believe it or not, some vehicles are already available with the early stages of this technology, specifically the latest-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which was launched with V2V technology in 2017.

Models equipped with the technology are able to communicate with other E-Class vehicles on the road, and soon other Mercedes-Benz models in general. This allows them to send road hazard, weather conditions, traffic updates, and more between vehicles. When paired with semi-autonomous assist systems like adaptive cruise and lane control, the vehicle is able to slow or stop if a hazard is detected ahead – before it may be noticeable to the driver.

Other automakers are fully immersed in developing these technologies for their own vehicles as well, from Ford’s recent announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show in January to Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo, Nissan, and more. It’s not out of the question that most new vehicles released in the next 5-10 years will come equipped with some form of V2X technology, and as infrastructure is updated across the country and around the world, more traffic lights and other pieces will start to adopt a version as well.

It may be hard to tell right now, but our cars and trucks are just a few years away from becoming smarter and more connected than ever.

About the Author

  • Brian Leon is a freelance automotive journalist and former Associate Editor of the New York Daily News Autos. He is currently a master student at Uppsala University in Sweden studying marketing and completing a thesis in the area of trust in autonomous vehicles.

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