Autonomous vehicles are moving out of the lab and onto the road. Some expect their arrival by as early as 2025-2030. Others say they are “way too much in the future”. But the truth is this: at some point, we’ll be sharing the road with self-driving cars. It’s going to happen sooner than later.
In fact, the United States department of transportation has already released a policy document creating a framework upon which rules relating to driverless cars will be created. The document addresses two areas of automated, transportation technology. The first is automated safety technology. The second is completely self-driving cars. The document also states that the potential for improvements in road safety is the element that is most exciting for the Department of Transportation.
It also cites a chilling statistic: 94% of traffic accidents are caused by human error or choice. Previously, I deep dived into whether self-driving cars are potentially safer or not. TLD: they could be as long as automakers and urban planners join their technological forces and completely revamp the supporting infrastructure.
The newly developed C-V2X technology will likely play a key role in that process.
C-V2X stands for Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything. It’s a new communication protocol standardized in June 2017 in 3GPP Release 14. In a nutshell, this technology utilized both car sensors and cellular networks to enable communication between a connected vehicle and any other “connected object” – smart traffic light, a pedestrian or a cyclist carrying a Bluetooth-device or another self-driving vehicle.
Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) communication incorporates several types of communication:
- V2I (Vehicle-to-Infrastructure): the ability to communicate with Road Side Units.
- V2V (Vehicle-to-Vehicle): the ability for vehicles to communicate with one another, without the telecom network.
- V2P (Vehicle-to-Pedestrian): the ability to interact with pedestrians/bicycles e.g. with the help of smartphones, bicycle lights, bicycle navigators etc.
- V2D (Vehicle-to-Device): the ability to communicate with smart devices such as a smart key, remote car tracker or smartphone.
- V2G (Vehicle-to-Grid) can enable electrical vehicles to “plug” into the power grid
- V2M (Vehicle-to-Motorcycle): the ability to interact with motorcycles.
- V2N (Vehicle-to-Network): the ability to use the mobile network and network connectivity.
As you can see, all of this can turn a regular vehicle into a highly aware “computer on wheels” that can scan, “listen” and “respond” to a variety of external factors, in a way the human driver now does.
Improved road safety is the biggest pitch of C-V2X. The technology can make every road user more aware of their surroundings and potential hazards, at a scale far superior than we currently have.
Picture this: a pedestrian is engrossed into her smartphone, is aimlessly crossing a seemingly empty road. But a car is about to emerge from behind the corner, not aware of that person. With the help of C-V2X, that vehicle can be alerted by the person’s smartphone, and automatically brake to avoid an accident.
Sounds fantastic, right? Well, there’s even more to that.
Avoiding collisions: C-V2X equipped vehicles can interact with one another, and constantly broadcast their position, speed and direction to one another. An in-dashboard computer can process that data and create a real-time map of immediate surroundings and present it to the driver. Or in case with self-driving cars, use it to plot better routes and update navigation in real-time. Further, when the computer calculates a high probability of collision it can take immediate evasive action, such as braking or accelerating. And notify other road users about the potential danger. This way a lot of costly roadside accidents and painful injuries caused by rear-end collisions can be avoided.
Queue warning: Smart roadside infrastructure, powered by C-V2X, can also communicate with the vehicles and help manage traffic flows. For instance, when there is some road work ahead, the driver can be immediately notified so that they can slow down smoothly and avoid hard braking. Or the cruise control can do that for them. Also, such infrastructure elements can help vehicles maintain consistent speed on the road, minimize the so-called phantom traffic jams and reduce the cases of speeding on the road. Whenever the human driver wants to accelerate beyond the allowed limit, the car can override their decision and issue a warning.
Hazards ahead warning: C-V2X can massively expand the driver’s awareness and help them identify hazards around a blind corner, or drive more safely under difficult weather conditions (such as heavy fog).
Connected roadside signs can also use this protocol to issue warnings to passing vehicles on a particular stretch of road. Finally, vehicles can cross-exchange driving data and notify those ahead or behind about possible difficulties. For instance, a vehicle ahead that’s going through an icy road patch can send an update to others.
Ford has been the most active supporter of C-V2X standard adoption and development. During CES 2019, the automaker hosted a demonstration of how such connected setup can function, featuring a Ford and an Audi car, as well as a Ducati Multistrada 1260 motorcycle – all equipped with C-V2X Qualcomm’s 9150 chipsets.
And by 2022, the company promises to equip every new car sold in the US with C-V2X chips, along with a host of new connectivity and safety features for the drivers.
“Navigating four-way stops becomes much easier with C-V2X, for example, since vehicles will be able to communicate with each other to negotiate which one has the right of way. In the same way, a car that’s involved in an accident can relay its status to approaching vehicles, giving them advance notice of a potentially dangerous situation. Even a pedestrian equipped with a mobile phone could convey their location to other vehicles, ensuring that everyone on the road is aware of people who may be out of their direct line of sight,” – Don Butler, executive director for Ford connected vehicle platform and product, further explained in a recent blog post.
The BMW Group, Audi, and Ducatti are three other companies who are actively testing C-V2X technology in their latest model. Beyond that, urban authorities all around the globe are also striking deals with tech providers and hosting pilots of V2X-powered infrastructure.
Per the GSA 2018 Report:
- 19 unique operators or governmental authorities planned or conducted actual trials of LTE- or 5G-based V2X technologies.
- 4 planned or completed trials were carried out using 5G technology.
- 43 pre-commercial and commercial automotive-grade modules supporting LTE for V2X were released.
- One 3GPP Release 14 compliant C-V2X chipset is available.
Clearly, this tech protocol is here to stay and it will be a major step towards the possibility of fully autonomous driving that is safe and efficient. However, we are still at the very early stage of adoption. More collaborative action among the legislators, authorities and OEMs will be required to “smartify” the entire transport ecosystem. The good news is that we are proactively moving in that direction as more connected cars are hitting the roads.