Tampa Project Steers Connected Cars’ Future

Some Florida drivers soon will get advance warning of traffic jams, oncoming cars and other hazards without buying a new, high-tech vehicle.

The Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot, a test of new network technology that may someday link all road users for better safety, will use aftermarket equipment added to 1,600 cars that are already on the road. The partners working on the project hope to find out whether DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications) can reduce accidents and congestion.

DSRC is a system similar to WiFi that allows cars to communicate with roadway networks — and eventually with each other. Among other things, it transmits a car’s location, speed and acceleration several times per second.

The federal government has promoted the technology for years and set aside radio channels for it, but adoption has been slow. This week, Toyota gave DSRC a boost by announcing broad deployment across its line-up in the next few years.

In the Tampa pilot, a car will send a signal to a network next to a busy expressway if the car slows down or stops. The network then will signal DSRC radios in cars farther back on the expressway, which then will tell their drivers heavy traffic lies ahead.

At busy Tampa intersections, a network will hear from any connected car that is about to enter the intersection against a light or a stop sign. Other connected cars approaching the corner will get a signal from the local network, and then alert their drivers. The pilot will also include warnings to wrong-way drivers, an alert system for streetcars and vehicles that share lanes and two different techniques to warn drivers about pedestrians.

The Tampa pilot, approved in 2015 after a US Department of Transportation competition, is one of the first big tests of the technology in the US. The city, regional transit authorities and two higher educational facilities are involved. The DOT also approved projects in New York City and Wyoming. But the Tampa pilot may help the most cities, because it’s in a midsized city with an active downtown linked to bedroom communities by an expressway, said Vik Bhide, smart mobility manager for the city of Tampa.

“There are 100 Tampas out there,” Bhide told The Connected Car. “There are a lot of cities with our type of dynamics.”

The pilot is open to drivers who own a 1996 or newer car and are often in the test area. They’ll receive a special rear-view mirror that can display alerts and will get a discount on expressway tolls. The project also seeks 500 pedestrians to download an app, which will let their phones signal their presence to a roadside network. That signaling will travel over WiFi, because phones aren’t yet equipped with DSRC, Bhide said. The app is currently only available for Android phones. Another part of the test will use Lidar to scan for pedestrians in a crosswalk, he said.

All participants should be on board by the end of this year, Bhide predicted. Getting to this point has been a challenge because the technologies involved weren’t quite ready, he said.

For one thing, project partners had to integrate equipment from multiple vendors. All the gear met the letter of the standard, but it didn’t quite work together at first, he said. Also, the team needed to develop a security credential management system to defend against cyber attacks and the exposure of drivers’ personal data, said Bhide. That work also involved the New York and Wyoming teams, plus a smart-city project in Columbus, Ohio.

At the end of the pilot, about two years from now, partners hope to see lower accident rates, less congestion and fewer pedestrian injuries, Bhide said. But how they move forward from there will depend partly on how DSRC fares in the still evolving world of connected cars.

“The more we have a commitment to adoption of DSRC, the clearer the path forward,” Bhide said. “That commitment to DSRC is pretty important.”

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