Telematics and V2V: Costs versus benefits

Connected vehicle technology has the potential to address 81 percent of all unimpaired driver related crashes, according to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That would save billions of dollars in costs for everything from public safety first responders to road maintenance crews who sweep debris off the road.

As NHTSA ponders a mandate for vehicle-to-vehicle communications in new automobiles, it's required to establish the cost benefits of the new technology, according to Alrik L. Svenson, research engineer and program manager for NHTSA's Office of Applied Vehicle Safety Research. "They have to establish that it will reduce crashes by a number that's greater than the cost to add the technology to the vehicle, as well as the cost to society,” he says. “Reduction in crashes, fatalities, injuries and property damage has to outweigh the economic cost. There's also a cost to the consumer, because auto makers just pass on the additional cost to the people who buy the vehicles."

Vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) could provide a lower-cost alternative to the arrays of sensors, cameras and radar detectors now studding some ADAS-equipped cars. Instead of an approaching vehicle passively triggering a car's crash avoidance system, the oncoming vehicle could transmit a simple message with its location and speed via dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) on spectrum reserved for transportation safety.

With V2V, "We hope that both cars actually recognize the danger and provide warnings, and that the two drivers' reactions to warnings will be such that they make the problem better," says John Kenney, senior research engineer, Toyota InfoTechnology Center, USA. "For example, if there are two vehicles on a trajectory to run into each other, if one gets message and slows down, that should be enough to prevent an accident. If both get the message and slow down, that's even better."

Synching the industry

If NHTSA decides to make V2V technology voluntary, of course, it doesn't need to prove that the benefits outweigh the costs. Nevertheless, many in the industry are anxiously awaiting the end of the lengthy rule-making process as well as the lengthy process of deciding whether to make the rule at all.

"The entire industry suffers from frustration at the time it takes for an iterative solution," says Jan Hellaker, vice president, business development and government programs, Volvo Technology North America. "We all know that GPS navigation systems geared up quickly once they became affordable. A mandate could build the basis for doing a lot more than safety. It could also enable other applications built on the technology."

The agency must be practical, according to Hellaker. If the requirements are too onerous, the industry will dig in its heels. "In a mandate, there's an obvious tradeoff between the cost perspective and safety," he says. The USDOT must set some very minimum requirement, he thinks, such as a vehicle being capable of pinging another to let it know it's in the vicinity. In that case, some drivers certainly would be willing to pay more for a fully loaded vehicle, with everything from automatic parallel parking to a heart monitor that alerts your doctor if you're about to keel over.

Another layer of safety

In Europe, the CAR 2 CAR Communication Consortium of car manufacturers is working on an open European standard for cooperative intelligent transport systems and V2V communication systems. Richard Bishop, principal of Bishop Consulting, says the organization has entered a new, more competitive phase in which auto makers are developing their own radios and products on top of the standardized protocols. "In Europe, we will start to see this as another discriminator," Bishop says. "Car makers are hungry to discriminate themselves from the competition and show why it's worth having this luxury brand. V2X will be marketed as giving you another layer of safety."

A mandate and standards would drive down the cost. IHS iSuppli forecasts that by 2017, total OEM ADASs will hit 30.7 million vehicles, growing a compounded 29 percent yearly from 2009 to 2017. "If this becomes a mandate, the volume would be on the order of 15 million vehicles a year in this country," Hellaker says. "The cost for basic equipment will be well below $100, way below."

The cost of a DSRC radio is estimated to be much less than the current sensing devices now being installed on vehicles. "Eventually, these could replace some of the conventional sensors as the technology matures," Svenson says. "There may be a time when both sensors and DSRC will be resident. One possibility is that DSRC would be mandated and radar sensors would be optional, but we still are completely in the research phase."

But this won't be any time soon. If NHTSA does decide to mandate ADAS and/or V2V, the technology won't show up in cars until probably 2018, according to Bishop. Aside from NHTSA's process, auto makers must do unprecedented amounts of testing, some of it in real-world situations. The 30-month model deployment of V2V-equipped vehicles from multiple manufacturers begins in Ann Arbor, Michigan in August 2012. And that's just the beginning.

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on V2V and ADAS, see V2X telematics: Taking ADAS to the next level, Telematics and M2M communications: Creating the Internet of things, MEMS: The telematics opportunity and Telematics and enhanced consumer usability.

For more all the latest telematics trends, visit V2X Safety & Mobility 2012 USA on March 20-21 in Novi, MI, Content & Apps for Automotive 2012 on April 18-19 in Germany, and Telematics Detroit 2012 on June 6-7.

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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