With V2X You Don’t have to Put on the Red Light

In the not-too-distant future, will traffic lights cease to exist?

That is the premise of an intriguing research project launched in England by Ford in 2016, in which the US auto giant was testing its Intersection Priority Management (IPM) vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) system. With this technology, which harnesses V2V, vehicles will communicate with each other when approaching intersections, and if their path is clear they will roll through them. If such technology is developed sufficiently and safely, it will eliminate the need for traffic lights entirely.

We don’t know how far Ford has gotten with its testing, as the company hasn’t publicly divulged the results of its traffic light-killing pilot program. The company did not provide information when requested by this publication. Whether Ford or a rival gets there first, we can be sure these time-wasting totems we all hate will go the way of the Dodo before long. That’s according to Arturo Vargas Mercado, technical and solutions leader for ADAS, autonomy and connectivity at automated diagnostics systems specialist National Instruments.

“We can think of V2V as the ‘mind reading’ ability a car would have over other cars,” he said. “If all of them know the exact position, speed and direction at any given time, they can absolutely synchronize to go through intersections safely by coordinating and adjusting, effectively eliminating the need to a traffic light to provide the stop and go instructions.” Mercado’s comments illustrate an important element of V2V and its companion technology V2X – its vast potential to improve safety and help push the vehicle up the levels of autonomy until it drives and makes decisions for itself.

However, it’s important for anyone involved in the assisted/autonomous driving space to be aware of one crucial factor – the development and establishment of V2V will be separate in many ways from that of in-car autonomous driving systems. “V2V and V2X are complimentary to but not essential for, Level 5 autonomous driving,” said Chris Piche, founder of next-generation camera systems maker Smarter AI.

“Level 5 autonomous driving requires ‘line of sight’ situational awareness for a single vehicle to recognize and react to its immediate surroundings, including other vehicles, pedestrians and other obstacles. V2V and V2X reach beyond ‘line of sight’ situational awareness to orchestrate the navigation and speed of multiple vehicles for optimized traffic safety and efficiency,” he added.

Yet, since V2V and V2X are, for want of a better term, “social” technologies that involve groups of vehicles, they must be developed towards a goal of interoperability. In other words, a set of standards for these functionalities is even more crucial than for in-car systems which concentrate on a single vehicle’s sensing and reacting to an environment. At a time in which both incumbent and upstart solutions providers are competing bitterly for prominence, fixing such standards won’t be an easy task, nor will it be cheap. Their establishment will also involve national and local transportation safety authorities, which to put it mildly don’t always jibe well with ambitious and hungry tech companies (to say nothing of vehicle manufacturers).

It also almost goes without saying that the vehicles rolling out of a manufacturer’s factory will need to be fully equipped with the hardware and software that allow them to communicate with their fellow road prowlers. Carmakers have been well aware of this for years and, as a result, many recent models are packed with what we can hope is future-compatible technology but there are still plenty of old-timers chugging along the road.

“V2V communication… will be effective when a critical mass of vehicles on the road are built with the technology to send and receive messages. Since people today are still driving cars and trucks that lack V2V-enabling technologies, it will be at least 10 years (maybe longer) until we will see a true V2V implementation on our streets and highways,” predicted Mike Juran, CEO of in-car user interface specialist Altia.
According to Juran, to help get us to that “true” level, a hybrid approach should be taken. He cited such technologies as smart and connected traffic lights and streetlights as incremental steps that can push us towards the goal. Again, though, as with many elements of V2V and V2X, standards will have to be determined and set by solutions providers and transportation regulators.

The effort and the resulting headaches will be more than worth it, however. Juran said that “the biggest win for V2V communication is safety – a fully implemented V2V platoon of cars and trucks on the road has the potential to significantly reduce traffic accidents. This new technology can also make traffic flow more smoothly. Consider the possibility of V2V eliminating traffic jams!”

Of course, a smoothly functioning V2V/V2X environment can ultimately save valuable time for drivers and passengers. Smooth traffic flow means a drastic reduction in “parking lot” situations on highways or busy municipality roads, to say nothing of idle time waiting for one’s turn to clear an intersection.

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