Ann Arbor and the future of V2V/V2I, part I

Ann Arbor and the future of V2V/V2I, part I

The Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is the largest test bed to date in the U.S. for DSRC-based vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications. And a lot is riding on its outcome. 

A partnership between the University of Michigan, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), major vehicle manufacturers and a range of public agencies, the pilot is not only testing the technical reliability of Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) devices in real-world  conditions, but also how drivers adapt to the technology, and how they respond to in-vehicle warnings.

Ultimately, the pilot wants to find out if accidents go down when drivers use DSRC-based V2V and V2I devices.

The trial will run through fall 2013, and results will be sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as it considers whether to approve national V2V and V2I mandates for DSRC implementation. 

A long time in the making

Since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted vehicle makers exclusive use of the 5.9 GHz band in 1999, the promise of DSRC as a foundation for V2V and V2I systems has remained both tantalizing and elusive in North America.

Now, with new technologies nipping at DSRC’s heels and no nationwide implementation strategy in place, time may be running out for the ITS community to prove the technology’s viability.

In many ways, the Ann Arbor pilot may be their last chance to convince the NHTSA to step in with a rule-making decision.

“The Ann Arbor project would be central to any rule-making activity,” says Matt Smith, manager of intelligent transportation systems at the Michigan DOT. “NHTSA is going to make a decision on whether to enter the rulemaking process this fall, and they’re going to be basing their decision very heavily on what comes out of the Ann Arbor project.” 

If the NHTSA doesn’t at least seem closer to V2V and V2I mandates after the pilot, interest in and funding for DSRC could dry up. 

“I think there are some serious questions now hovering over the entire DSRC initiative, largely as a result of no solution having been deployed,” warns Roger Lanctot, associate director, automotive multimedia & communications service, Strategy Analytics. 

(For more on the V2V and V2I standards debate, see Q&A: Building the infrastructure for V2X and V2X telematics: Making V2X mainstream.)

To DSRC, or not to DSRC

One of these questions is whether DSRC is still even the best technology to use for V2V and V2I. Another question is whether an anticipated decision by the FCC to open up the 5.9 GHz band will compromise the reliability of V2V communications using that band.

(For more on this, read next week's Ann Arbor and the future of V2V/V2I, part II.) 

Of the nearly 3,000 vehicles in the Ann Arbor pilot, 64 are using embedded DSRC devices that integrate with a vehicle’s computer system, 300 have aftermarket safety devices that draw data from the environment but do not link with the vehicle’s computer, and the rest has basic communications devices that emit a simple safety signal.

The range of solutions employed is meant to mimic market penetration in the early days of an envisioned DSRC rollout. “We’re working with the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP), which is eight leading vehicle manufacturers,” Smith says. “They’re providing their cars and equipment for this study. We’re also partnering with several equipment suppliers.”

General Motors, Ford, BMW, Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen are among those participating.

Partners in DSRC

Cohda, a connected vehicle device manufacturer, is one of the technology partners in the Safety Pilot. Cohda’s MK2 radio, a DSRC device, employs advanced physical layer receiver technology and can be configured for single or dual antenna operation, which Cohda claims results in greatly improved signal range in non-line-of-sight conditions, such as those found in metropolitan areas. 

Cohda also believes its system’s connectivity will hold up in vehicles traveling at and beyond highway speeds, a crucial test and one of the things being looked at in the Ann Arbor pilot. 

Along with roadside broadcasting units, which Cohda developed in partnership with Cisco Systems, the MK2 radio is being used to test connected vehicle operations like brake-light warnings, intersection movement assist, and blind spot and lane change warnings.

DGE, another technology partner, contributed a flexible, open controller (OBE platform) for DSRC applications called Vehicle IntelliDrive Module, which can be used for interoperability testing. The connected vehicle applications supported by the module include traffic flow optimization, active safety management and emergency vehicle signal interrupt, which can help reduce the risk of crashes at intersections for first responders.

DSRC at a crossroads

Along with V2V applications, the pilot is looking closely at potential V2I deployment at intersections. “There are 15-20 signals outfitted with radio devices and associated equipment to broadcast signal phasing and timing information directly to the vehicles,” Smith explains. “Drivers receive information telling them what the signal up ahead is going to do. Devices also issue warnings if the car is going too fast with a red light up ahead.”

Focusing on traffic signals makes sense, since that’s where any rollout of DSRC-based, V2I technology will likely begin if mandates do go through. But, as Lanctot points out, traffic signals are one area where DSRC advocates may have already missed a huge opportunity.

“There are more than 9,000 people killed each year in the U.S. at intersections,” he says. “DSRC is a technology that could help mitigate those fatalities, and, in fact, the DSRC community has identified intersection management as a key application. But I don’t think they’ve been very effective at getting the word out, and I think part of the problem is they should have gotten a solution on the road by now.”

This, in Lanctot’s view, is a function of the DSRC community’s pursuit of mandates to the exclusion of a market-based rollout. Lanctot believes that this approach has cost DSRC advocates credibility and public support.

Now, with companies like Google rolling out new connected vehicle technologies that aren’t based exclusively around DSRC, and with the FCC threatening to open the 5.9 GHz band, even a positive result coming out of Ann Arbor may not be enough to convince the NHTSA that the time has come for connected vehicle mandates.

Greg Nichols is a regular contributor to TU.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6,Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich, V2V & V2I for Auto Safety USA 2013 on July 9-10 in Novi, MI, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago,Telematics Russia 2013 in September in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.


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