Feds Want V2V Communication in New Cars Starting in 2021

connected car vehicle to vehicle communication V2V

Should self-driving cars someday fulfill the ambition of their creators and transform the transportation landscape as we know it, future industry leaders may look back on Tuesday, December 13, 2016, as the day reality started catching up with the hype.

In Silicon Valley, the bastion of autonomous technology, Google announced it was spinning its self-driving-car project into its own independent company called Waymo, a development that signals commercialization in the public realm is coming soon.

One hour earlier, in Washington, D.C., federal Department of Transportation (DOT) officials unveiled a long-awaited notice of proposed rulemaking. If a final rule reaches fruition, it will mandate that all new vehicles contain equipment that permits vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. Regulators say this connected-car technology could one day prevent thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of crashes every year by offering drivers real-time alerts of imminent dangers ahead.

Coupled with autonomous technology, it may have further lifesaving effects. Although Google didn’t use V2V communications for a landmark driverless journey around Austin, Texas, in a car that didn’t contain steering wheels or brake pedals, many experts believe that these communications will enhance, and perhaps even be necessary, for operations at the most advanced levels of autonomous driving.

“There’s not a safety standard in clear language proposed here. There are concepts that might be turned into a safety standard.” – Eric Paul Dennis, Center for Automotive Research

Sensors like radar, cameras, and lidar give autonomous vehicles a robust picture of their immediate environments. According to transportation leaders, cars paired with V2V technology could learn more about hazards that exist beyond the line of sight of those sensors in updates that are transmitted 10 times per second.

“The bottom line is, this is a technology that has been contemplated and expected for some time, it’s proven, and we know it works,” Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said Tuesday morning, recalling that 35,092 people were killed in motor-vehicle collisions last year, a number that is tracking higher in 2016. He also said, “Our ultimate goal is to save lives.”

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Much Work Remains for V2V

But compared with autonomous technology, V2V’s foothold is more tenuous. One major difference between Tuesday’s two announcements: Google’s portends the closing chapter in movement of the technology from its science-experiment phase into the marketplace, while the DOT’s marks just the beginning of V2V’s march toward the market.

Although it has been in development for more than a decade, this week’s notification marks the beginning of a long slog. Foxx estimated it will take a year for a final rule to be formulated, with implementation occurring in 2019. Eric Paul Dennis, a transportation systems analyst with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, says much work remains to shape the language of the proposed rule into a final product.

“An automaker could not take what’s in this document and know what their responsibility will be under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,” he said. “There’s not a safety standard in clear language proposed here. There are concepts that might be turned into a safety standard, so it’s hard to make declarative statements.”

As it currently stands, the proposed rule would require half of new cars sold to be equipped with V2V capability by 2021 and all of new cars sold equipped by 2023.

Once all new cars contain the equipment that makes V2V possible, it will still take years for enough cars on U.S. roads to make the technology useful. Since V2V is predicated on vehicles communicating with one another, it is only effective when a critical mass of vehicles on the road can send and receive messages. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  estimates the technology won’t fully spread through the fleet before 2028.

connected car vehicle V2V

The V2V Proposal Is Limited in Scope

Beyond that timeline, more existential challenges to V2Vs long-term prospects persist. Tuesday’s proposal only encompasses light-duty vehicles, not heavy-duty vehicles or trucks. NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said research on the potential benefit of V2V in trucks is ongoing, and he expressed hope it could be completed faster than the 12-year period of research that led to Tuesday’s proposed rule for light-duty vehicles.

Further, Tuesday’s rulemaking only addresses vehicle-to-vehicle communications, not the vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications that are an essential component of the DOT’s broader intention to have real-time, safety-critical information conveyed in a smart transportation network. Foxx said he intends the DOT to issue guidance on V2I—a step short of a proposed rulemaking—before the end of his administration in January.

“From a safety perspective, this is a no-brainer.”
-– Anthony Foxx, Department of Transportation

Those broad hopes are not necessarily shared, or at least prioritized, in other corners of the federal government. There’s an ongoing fight in Washington over the 5.9-gigahertz spectrum that underpins V2V communications. Long reserved for intelligent transportation purposes, the spectrum has sat untapped. Other industries are pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to permit them to share the spectrum, a prospect transportation officials are reluctant to endorse. Sharing might slow the speed in these communications that are supposed to save lives.

Dennis believes the DOT is worried about losing unfettered access to the spectrum, which is perhaps one reason why Foxx has rushed to complete the proposal in the twilight of his tenure. But he suggests there’s a way to measure the spectrum’s true value to the auto industry.

“If I were to put on my avant-garde economist hat, if you think this is valuable to the auto industry, you can bid on it like everyone else,” Dennis said. “It’s a valuable piece of the spectrum, a big pipe you can shove a lot of data down. It’s worth having your hands on.”

Testing on the potential risks of sharing is the subject of ongoing research. If the FCC ultimately grants other industries access to the spectrum, the DOT could require another round of fresh research to study the ramifications for automotive purposes, begetting delays in implementing V2V.

And by the time the technology arrives, it’s possible the industry will have found a viable alternative. Technology companies are racing to develop 5G networks that could deliver the same warnings potentially faster than they could on the 5.9-gigahertz spectrum. To be sure, the technology remains in its infancy, but Foxx said if new technologies “give us a different pathway to accomplish the same objective, there’s enough flexibility built into this to incorporate this understanding.”

  • Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications Are Next Big Thing for Auto Safety
  • Michigan Builds Proving Ground for Autonomous and Connected Cars
  • Future of Transportation: Q&A with DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx

In the end, it may not be technical hurdles that sidetrack V2V. Federal officials said the proposed rulemaking has the support of the auto industry, but with the Trump administration set to assume power in January—and presumably bring with it an exuberance for slashing regulations—it’s possible the rulemaking process could be scuttled before it begins in earnest. Foxx said he hopes that won’t happen.

“I obviously can’t speak for the next administration,” he said, “but from a safety perspective, this is a no-brainer.”


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