Telematics and the future of V2X

Much of the momentum behind the US Federal government’s current push for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) deployment can be traced to the safety benefits this technology will offer drivers—and, by extension, society, the governing bodies that maintain the transportation system, and other stakeholders. Nevertheless, it will be challenging to capitalize on V2X’s safety potential until it has been implemented in a critical mass of vehicles on the road.

An examination of the safety applications on the horizon highlights the need for aftermarket partners to speed deployment of V2X in more than just new vehicles. It also raises questions as to how the regulatory landscape will need to shift to accommodate this new level of integrated and connected communication.

“The challenges confronting decision-makers evaluating potential regulation of connected vehicle deployment are formidable,” notes attorney Paul Laurenza in a 2010 Dykema white paper. (For more on V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology, see Special report: Telematics and V2V/V2X technologies.)

Key safety features

“In any variety of crash scenarios, the US DOT says 82% of [incidents] could be mitigated by V2V or V2X,” says Richard Wallace, director of transportation systems analysis for the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) Group. Although this figure does not include crashes that involve impaired drivers, Wallace believes V2X could eventually be combined with other technologies to detect impaired drivers and get them off the road. (For more on the DOT, see DOT’s distraction guidelines as challenge and opportunity, What DOT’s new distraction guidelines mean for telematics, and Distraction guidelines as a telematics business opportunity.)

Wallace adds that V2X will be helpful in a number of the most “critical crash scenarios,” which include intersections and roads with a single lane in either direction. Once equipped with enough base maps with high enough resolution, a V2X system could alert drivers when they’re deviating from their lane or crossing the median. It could offer alerts to ward off forward ‘fender-bender’ crashes as well as rear-end crashes and other potential collision opportunities, such as blind spots and navigating intersections.

“It really is 360-degree awareness, with connectivity that sensor-based systems can’t provide,” Wallace says. “And if we integrate the two, that’s an even better package.”

Wallace envisions a future where connectivity is integrated with radar and optical camera-based safety technologies to create a “cocoon of safety,” not to mention applications for mobility, environmental gains, tolling, and fleet management. He places this 10 to 15 years in the future, but acknowledges that some features may debut sooner than that.

Bill Ford, speaking to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in March, urged his audience to prepare for “semiautonomous driving technology,” which would combine V2V, sensor networks, and real-time information about driving conditions to enable cars to automatically maintain a safe distance from one another.

Aftermarket acceleration

However, before construction on the cocoon of safety can begin, V2X capability and equipment must find their way into vehicles. Particularly if V2X begins to be a “safety mandate,” Wallace suggests, “we’ll have to ask about the vehicles [already] out there that aren’t equipped.” He sees this as a tremendous opportunity for aftermarket providers, as their products will be “almost necessary” to ensure faster deployment. The average age of a vehicle on the road is 10.8 years, he notes, so if we wait for fleet turnover to accomplish the task, we’ll be waiting a long time. (For more on the aftermarket, see Is there an aftermarket market for V2V telematics? and Telematics: Time to take in-car V2X mainstream?)

Wallace also speculates that aftermarket providers could be some of the same players making the V2X equipment built in to new vehicles; they’d just make an aftermarket version as well. “These aftermarket suppliers may team with technology companies,” he continues. “There’s may be even a role for smart device makers.” Why couldn’t HTC, Motorola, and Samsung include DSRC connectivity in their devices?

But even after the consumer market gets involved, the government will remain a presence in the expanding realm of V2X, probably as regulators of the system. Where V2X is concerned, the government will certainly remain a vital stakeholder as owner and operator of transportation infrastructure. “An intersection safety application has to have a transportation agency involved,” Wallace says. Yet once OEM-provided or aftermarket V2X equipment is active, issues of liability and regulation, particularly where safety is concerned, move into uncharted territory.

Regulatory challenges

Required vehicle safety features have been available and in use on a volunteer basis for quite some time—often years—before being mandated by the government, explains Dykema’s Laurenza in his 2010 paper. So the potential US government decision to make V2X a safety requirement from the start, after success only in pilot projects, would be something new.

Although the goal is dramatically increased safety, the road to get there may be a litigious one, suggests Wallace. If a V2X-equipped vehicle fails to stop in time to avoid a collision, even if it stopped faster than an unaided driver would have, will the driver still decide to sue? Would he have grounds to do so? Will aftermarket V2X equipment be held to government-imposed safety standards? Will OEM embedded systems? Which aspects of V2X will be regulated? These sorts of questions must be answered so V2X can move forward.

Jessica Royer Ocken is a regular contributor to TU.

For more all the latest telematics trends, check out Insurance Telematics USA 2012 in September in Chicago and Telematics Munich 2012 on October 29-30.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports on In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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