V2X telematics: Encouraging early adoption

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation where vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) telematics is concerned. For the system to work—and benefit those who’ve acquired it—a critical mass of other users is necessary. “Whatever is year one for embedded systems, there will still be millions more vehicles out there without it,” says Richard Wallace, director of Transportation Systems Analysis at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR). “Connectivity and safety are really optimized when everyone has it.”

But whether using aftermarket or embedded equipment, some immediate benefit must be available to users even as a fully functioning V2X safety system gets up to speed. Otherwise, why be an early adopter?

From that challenge, yet another struggle has emerged: how to offer these early enticements—from tolling, mobility, and insurance applications to enhanced, real-time traffic information—without creating an additional safety problem. The current issue, which the US DOT has taken the lead in wrestling with, notes Mike Ridge, an engineer with Battelle, is “how to get DSRT radios deployed [in vehicles on the road] but not increase driver distraction.” (For more on distracted driving, see What DOT’s new distraction guidelines mean for telematics, DOT’s distraction guidelines as challenge and opportunity, Distraction guidelines as a telematics business opportunity and Driver distraction: The battle over in-car apps.)

Preliminary potential

Wallace says early V2X-system features are essential to getting the new technology off the ground. “Safety will be deployed because it’s mandated,” he says. Except for the small consumer segment interested in paying extra for heightened safety features on high-end vehicles, “the market case for safety is tough.”

But what’s not so tough is the market case for increasingly connected cars and the additional information they can offer drivers. Not all useful features require an embedded DSRC device, Wallace notes. Traffic-monitoring and GPS capabilities have proved quite popular via other means and could conceivably run through an aftermarket DSRC device or on an embedded system, before other V2X features are available.

He adds that “modest infrastructure development at key intersections and other places” could allow early V2X features as well, even though a fully deployed system is likely far in the future because of infrastructure costs and the challenge of coordination. A “bootstrap system”—in which you deploy something to offer a benefit and that, in turn, encourages more drivers to equip their cars for V2X—could provide basic safety warning systems and mobility guidance around traffic congestion.

Wallace suggests an early focus on signalized intersections—particularly in large, urban areas and at high-collision intersections—where signal-change warnings delivered via DSRC could reduce dangerous side-impact crashes. (For more on V2X technology, see Special report: Telematics and V2V/V2X technologies.)

Distraction debate

However, even though early features may increase the installation of V2X technology in vehicles and pave the way for full deployment of the safety-enhancing system, they could increase driver distraction in the process, suggests Battelle’s Ridge.

Battelle researchers Ridge and Deker Dekelbaum, team leader for cyber security transportation projects, point to the US DOT’s ongoing studies and pilot projects, in conjunction with the CAMP VSC3 Consortium (Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership Vehicle Safety Communications 3). They are putting V2X-enabled vehicles on the road and examining the results.

A great deal of the data being collected is related to how to best notify drivers of potential safety issues, explains Ridge: The warning “itself can be a distraction.” Ultimately, it’s a “balancing act,” he says. Research must find the line where added features cross over into distraction.

The DOT is “augmenting existing vehicles” with V2X capability for the current testing, notes Dekelbaum, so this will also yield interesting data regarding how aftermarket equipment may fit into the process of deploying V2X. “It comes down to looking at data and at where driver distraction occurs,” he says. “Can [V2X equipment] be added, or does it need to be integrated? We don’t know yet. We’re looking forward to the output from the study.” (For more on the potential vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) aftermarket, see Is there an aftermarket market for V2V telematics?.)

A V2X mandate?

The CAMP VSC3 Consortium includes Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, ?Toyota, and Volkswagen. Each of these manufacturers has supplied vehicles for the pilot program. About 3,000 V2X-enabled vehicles will be tested on the road in Novi, MI, during the summer, with an initial analysis to be reported in August before the study continues in various stages through 2014.

It’s also important to note, “this study is the DOT’s opportunity to gather data to make a decision as to whether they want to continue down the [V2X] path,” says Dekelbaum. Rather than pinpointing a realistic date for a V2X mandate, these results could determine whether there’s an upcoming mandate at all, or perhaps just continued study.

Without a government mandate, it’s a bit of a stretch to see why auto manufacturers would choose to equip their vehicles for V2X. But Dekelbaum says he never underestimates “the ability of OEMs to know their target audience.” If they discern a need among their customers, they’ll certainly find a way.

And mandate or no, CAR’s Wallace imagines some opportunities to leverage V2X applications in transit vehicles and other sorts of fleets, which could help jumpstart interest at the consumer level and increase the safety-application opportunities for all.

“I don’t want to say discussing [early V2X-system] features is premature,” says Dekelbaum. “If there’s a benefit to the users, they’ll be more apt to want the system in their cars.” But consideration for safety—the ultimate goal for V2X—must be kept in equal balance.

Jessica Royer Ocken is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on V2X technology, see Special report: Telematics and V2V/V2X technologies.

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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