What’s next for VII – lost interest in DSRC??

What’s next for VII – lost interest in DSRC??

In the US, back in 2003, the original Vehicle-Infrastructure Integration (VII) vision was that 5.9GHz Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), would be used by all vehicles by 2012-2015 timeframe.

A deployment decision for a national roll-out was to be made in late 2008 to provide these important mobility and safety features as well as commercial services. DSRC would not be offered as an option but built into every vehicle and these would be able to communicate with each other and roadside infrastructure. The communications infrastructure would be used by private companies as well as public service agencies and data transmitted from the roadside could provide drivers with safety information or allow them to pay tolls. Vehicles in turn could serve as probes and anonymously provide traffic and road condition information.

The USDOT along with a consortium of the major automotive companies was tasked with determining the feasibility of deployment, and implementation and interface to the public agencies (including members of the VII National Working Group). http://www.vehicle-infrastructure.org/faqs.php

In summary, VII was to be the future of Telematics by 2012. More importantly, VII in 2005 when it was first announced at 10th World Congress held in Madrid, Spain in November, 2003, was viewed as the process by which the automotive OEMs, USDOT and State DOTs would coordinate the deployment of vehicles and roadside communications technology or equipment in order to get these new safety and mobility features on the road as quickly as possible. Since then, however, cellular and GPS-based technologies have attracted greater OEM interest.

According to Gartner Research (http://social.telematicsupdate.com/asset-monitoring/telematics-business-models-discussed-and-dissected), by the end of 2008 virtually all automakers will have Telematics strategies and the market leaders will be acting on their plans. This implies that starting in 2012 every automotive OEM will have a cellular (3G) Telematics or GM OnStar-like system.

In the eyes of the OEM, the wireless-enabled car, with various roadside assistance services, is an important customer relations management tool. Recently, Ford has challenged the long-established OnStar vision of a built-in phone/GPS solution by offering the Ford Sync product with a new e911 feature. With the Ford product, the customer’s phone is the Telematics device and is connected to the car’s audio system. Other consumers use various types of Personal Navigation Device (PND) to access navigation and traffic information. PNDs tend to be much more affordable and flexible than OEM-fitted systems. The Dash navigation system is perhaps the most advanced PND as a connected device and uses cellular data technology (GPRS) to share traffic information. Do we still need VII as originally conceived to be built into every car, therefore? Customers are increasingly using their own personal devices and OEMs are deploying Telematics as options.

In 2006, the USDOT and OEMs who formed the VII Consortium (VIIC), put a team in place to develop the ’wireless highway‘ that would blanket the country’s roads with new safety ,mobility, and commercial features. The principal focus was safety: to reduce intersection and rear-end collisions. DSRC was viewed as the only technology able to provide a robust, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-mandated medium which could minimize RF interference and be affordable enough to be built into every vehicle and installed along every major road.

DSRC as the cornerstone of new safety features remains valid but safety is only a subset of the original vision for vehicle connectivity. Recently, the USDOT has reduced the scope of to safety applications by reducing the funding of ’private‘ mobility applications (such as traveler information).

Now is the time for strong leadership. The following are the top issues that need to be understood and are a call to action:

The role of the various national applications test beds needs to be better defined. These are progressing slower than expected and the minor technical issues are well known; the good news is that many OEMs and key suppliers (Techncom, Telcordia, Raytheon, Delphi, Navteq and so on) have active R&D development activities.

Development of the business model for national deployment went on the back burner and never been adequately re-addressed. USDOT is now revisiting funding priorities and recently asked the community for ideas.

Work needs to be done on defining new applications which will capture the attention of the driving public, key transportation stakeholders and politicians. The original focus has been on long-term safety (intersection and rear-end collision) alongside mobility and commercial applications. But do we need a new focus on applications that improve energy efficiency and address urgent mobility issues such as urban congestion?

Finally, will the key standards be in place in time to accelerate development and deployment? The key suite of standards is IEEE 802.11p, IEEE 1609 and the SAE J2735 messaging protocol. Ideally they should be balloted and good to go in early 2009. www.standards.its.dot.gov

The window of opportunity is closing fast as new wireless technologies (even 4G) will grab the OEMs’ attention. There is always a reason to wait to see what new technology emerges, so there is an urgent need for a champion to ensure DSRC standard activities and associated testing progress as originally envisioned. The US, with a focus on the near term, coupled with a lack of consensus, may wait for customers to clamor for a solution to their mobility and safety concerns. We need to be proactive – learn from and extend the national test beds.

The author has, over the last two years, been very close to the deployment of VII technology in the Southeast Michigan Development Test Environment (DTE). The co-existence of both safety and mobility applications using the same wireless network is very challenging and that changes to the DSRC specifications may be needed. The key applications (probe vehicles, in-vehicle signage – both travel advisory and next exit services – and open road tolling) have worked well, building confidence in their utility and ability to be deployed.

Most importantly, compelling business models need to be characterized and clearly communicated. In the case of Google, for example, the highly capable technical solution of search algorithms was quickly followed by a compelling business model but this did not emerge overnight. It took years to refine and communicate to customers and partners. In the same way, the various VII test beds must be nurtured and developed into sustainable endeavors, possibly as private-public partnerships.

Rather than a national master plan, we have what the OmniAir consortium and others have termed VII Tactical Deployments (VTDs). VTDs are limited in scope, have specific customer focuses and their own self-sufficient and unique business models. For example, for tolling it result in public investment to fund privately built roads with a per-use fee as a means to pay for new roads and ongoing maintenance. http://www.omniair.org/news/. A new aspect could be congestion pricing.

A relatively new business model is emerging which fleet businesses address with VII technology – the cost of wasted fuel and inefficient travel. Fleet applications are multiplying and companies like Inrix are learning the importance of fleets as a source of valuable real-time data on traffic congestion, weather and events, and even the state of the roads themselves (detecting potholes through an interface to vehicles’ stability systems). We need to view the test beds or field operational trails as more than R&D test beds we invade with our equipment and engineers.

The investment of installed equipment needs to be sustainable. A test case is what the USDOT will do with the Michigan DTE: will the leadership empower a public-private partnership to maintain and use the test bed over the next several years? http://www.michigan.gov/mdot/0,1607,7-151-9621_11041-168599–,00.html

There are many such proposals on the table. Another important issue is the role of the OEMs in VII deployment: will they continue to use the VIIC as the interface to the public agencies or wait on the sidelines for the infrastructure? If the latter, what happened to the strategy of synchronized deployment of both in-vehicle hardware and roadside infrastructure?

We need to acknowledge that in vehicles is being adopted wireless technology but not necessarily meeting our VII expectations of 2005. Growth is being fuelled by the availability of affordable wireless connectivity – CDMA, GSM, WiFi, WiMax and so on. To accelerate adoption of new applications, a suite of new standards need to be released and adopted by the key stakeholders. 802.11p, 1609 and J2735 are fundamental for vehicles as anonymous probes to collect real-time traffic data.In the case of 802.11p and 1609 we may have to wait until the end of 2009 for standards releases. Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM, and others have been deeply involved in development of the J2735 standard, which is to be published by the year’s end.

Lastly, the issue of which wireless technology to use is being revisited. The USDOT has opened up the discussion to consider cellular as well as DSRC and is considering architectures that are ‘seamless’, supporting multiple wireless connections. http://www.itsworldcongress.org/safe-trip-21.html .One idea is to use DSRC for safety and urban applications, where available augmented by cellular (and possibly WiMax) to cover non-safety uses (traffic information that covers wide areas). Unfortunately for a timely national deployment decision, the VII architecture is not finalized and we have departed from the well-understood road map based on DSRC for all mobility as well as safety applications. The architecture and supporting suite of standards as key enablers are not yet in place.

The key industry leaders (the automotive OEMs, state DOTs and USDOT) need to agree on a plan and motivate the key partners (DOTs and suppliers) to follow it. The ITS World Congress (http://www.itsworldcongress.org/about-world-congress.html) is a key opportunity for that leadership and consensus to emerge. By November, when the event is held, we will have key results in hand from the VII test beds and at the Congress we will see first hand many of the new applications demonstrated. The technical issues are well known and the applications demonstrated but will we have the will to move forward and the action plan for timely national deployment?

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