US government gets in gear by ‘investing’ in connected cars


On the initiative, and with the funding of the US Department of Transportation (DOT), a unique partnership between it, other public bodies and multiple OEMs and carmakers has been formed to deploy and test the performance of a broad array of connected vehicle applications and the associated infrastructure.

“This project is unique in the world,” said Kay Stepper, vice-president, driver assistance and automated driving chassis systems control, at Robert Bosch, the North American division of Bosch, which is supplying software to be tested in the programme.

“There is no other project of this scope. It represents a great leap forward for the industry. Connectivity and automated driving are progressing very fast. Carmakers are eager to launch some of this soon.”

Currently, two projects are in progress, the Mobility Transformation Centre and the Connected Vehicle (CV) Pilots Deployment project. Both are spin-offs of the recently completed Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot programme carried out in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which tested the readiness of dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) in a connected vehicle for use in vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and involved approximately 2,800 cars, trucks and transit vehicles equipped with V2V systems.

Stepper explained that the Mobility Transformation Centre, which is hosted by the University of Michigan, is a “significant expansion” of the Safety Pilot project, including using 9,000 vehicles with V2V and V2X technology, using a far greater testing area and, eventually 20,000 vehicles at 500 nodes, such as traffic lights and intersections, and to broaden the scope of testing to include, for the first time, automated vehicles.

The testing will be carried out in several counties in south-eastern Michigan and will include equipping non-vehicle road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, with DSRC devices. “They will be communicating with cars and the infrastructure by sending out signals that they are there,” Stepper said. “The target of this model is to avoid crashes or to mitigate the consequences of a collision, including those involving pedestrians and cyclists.”

“A similar model deployment for automated vehicles and this project will be carried out in and around Ann Arbor and involves 2,000 vehicles and some 27 square miles of densely instrumented infrastructure. We at Bosch are extremely excited by it.”

One benefit of this partnership with US public authorities is that Bosch will be exporting the findings from the project to its global auto and research divisions.

The company will also be saving a lot of money. “Any type of new technological development takes a significant investment, whether it comes from connectivity or automation,” he explained. “And sometimes there are infrastructures needed to develop the technology. It makes sense to have partners in sharing this infrastructure investment.”

In addition, he says a new test facility is being established, M City, which will simulate an urban environment. “We can test and validate our new technology in this urban environment, with a well-defined test tract scenario, as opposed to an open road. It is important to have a controlled environment.”

The 32-acre M City is being constructed on the University of Michigan’s North Campus and will include roads with up to five lanes, intersections, traffic signs and signals, parked cars as well as pedestrians and construction sites. It will be used to replicate test of the Mobility Transformation Centre, including putting self-driving cars in an urban environment.

Stepper pointed out that the programme will also include research on the non-technical aspects of connected and automated vehicles, such as public policy, business models, all legal aspects raised by the technology and societal aspects, such as consumer acceptance of the technology. “It’s important to find out if the general public wants the technology in the first place,” he said.

Volkswagen of America has been participating in DOT-funded research projects since 2009, said Andrew Cunningham, senior manager, integrated and electric vehicle safety in the company’s safety affairs and vehicle testing group.

The company has expressed its support for the CV Pilots Deployment project, which is building on the Safety Pilot’s V2V Model Deployment programme and expanding it to cover almost every aspect of connected-car driving. Applications that capture and use data from a variety of sources are expected be tested in virtually every road situation in multiple locations throughout the US.

The applications concern virtually every aspect of connected driving, including V2I safety, such as cornering speed warning and pedestrian crossings, V2V safety, including forward collision warning, blind spot and lane change warning, environment, such as fuel efficient deceleration and acceleration at controlled intersections, traffic signal timing and signal priority, and mobility including harmonising traffic speed to improve flow and car-sharing.

[AC1] The programme involved three phases after proposals [AC2] from local deployment sites are selected by the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). For those that have been selected, there is the concept phase, where the local deployment team, regional stakeholders and, potentially, carmakers will define what can be done on the infrastructure side as well as in cars to address real local safety, mobility and environmental challenges. This stage is scheduled to run for up to 12 months.

The concept of operations from the first phase will be assessed by the FHWA and the top proposals will be selected and move on to the second phase, which will run for up to 20 months. Here, infrastructure is installed and applications are built and tested. The final phase is the scaled-up deployment, which will vary in size based on proposal goals and run for 18 months. In this phase, the tested applications and technologies are put into operation, with performance monitored and reported on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

A number of localities in different parts of the US will be selected for the deployments. “Funding awards will range in size, from a little money, perhaps starting at $100,000, say, to up to $20M or more,” said Zac Doerzaph, director of the Centre for Advanced Automotive Research at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “Probably the number of sites will be between three and five, but there could be as many as ten.”

The smaller projects would work with a correspondingly small number of vehicles, on which they would test new apps, he noted. “The big awards would deploy a minimum of several thousands of cars apiece, up to as many as 10,000 or more apiece eventually.”

Because of the duration of the project, it will be overtaken by developments in the market, as carmakers launch their own V2V solutions. Last September, General Motors CEO Mary Barra announced that the company will launch V2V technology in 2017 on its Cadillac CTS saloon. This may begin a launch stampede as other car manufacturers try to catch up by marketing proprietary V2V solutions.

Doerzaph said that the primary aim of the CV Pilots Deployment programme is not to pioneer the technology but to “speed the rate at which the deployment happens”.

In addition, he said, the important findings from the deployment will be available to already marketed V2V systems by software and firmware updates. “The industry is moving in general to solutions that can be updated after deployment. So these takeaways will be updated to cars on the road.” Updatable solutions may even be part of the research, he added.

But the primary focus of the project is to get the infrastructure in place. “It is more about stimulating the road operators or local transport agencies to deploy the infrastructure,” Doerzaph said.

Most deployments will involve only pre-production technology, where there are still some challenges, Cunningham said. “Often these stumbling blocks can only be found in a true deployment through getting the infrastructure stakeholders working with the vehicle stakeholders to test out a concept.”

The security of the connected vehicle will also be an aspect of the research, he said. “You have all these attack vectors in a vehicle: Wifi, Bluetooth, the cellphone and tyre pressure monitoring. V2V and V2I works like Wifi, which is an attack vector — though not necessarily making cars less secure.”

Another important aspect of the deployment is privacy and data protection. According to Doerzaph, the large projects will be important in researching some of the non-technical aspects of deploying the technology, such as data security. “By creating a large environment, the winning road operators will have to deal with the legal aspects of putting these cars on the road,” he explained. “For a large deployment, collaborators need access to large amounts of data. The issue then becomes: ‘How do I protect the data security, privacy, deal with liability, etc?’”

Furthermore, the programme will allow connected vehicle stakeholders, public and private alike, “to test out various concepts and to see if our visions achieve V2I deployment goals on a small scale,” Cunningham said. “We’ve got things in mind as we consider going into this project, to assess what we can achieve and hopefully put some really cool applications into the vehicles. Everybody involved wants to give it a shake and kick the tyres before significant investments are made in the vehicle as well as the infrastructure.”

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