Why would Ford want to talk with robots in space? How would that be relevant to the future of V2X, which is taking place on earth?
MADISON, Wis. -- I recently came across Ford Motor Company’s announcement claiming that the company is studying space robots for connected-vehicle communications.
Call me slow on the uptake but at first glance I failed to make connections between space robots and vehicle-to-vehicle/vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. Seriously, why would a carmaker want to talk with robots in space? How would that be relevant to the future of V2X, which is obviously taking place on earth?
I finally had a chance to interrogate Oleg Gusikhin, technical leader in systems analytics for Ford. He was fresh back from vacation earlier this week.
Gusikhin explained that Ford’s main interest is in understanding the theoretical fundamentals of a “delay-tolerant communication network.”
He told me to picture a number of robots in a space station. As humans on earth send commands to these robots, communications traveling the long distance will inevitably suffer delays. In the space station, however, all the communication (between a gateway installed inside a space station and robots, and among robots themselves, typically in a mesh network) takes place in real time.
Drawing a parallel
Communications in space parallel the communication challenges likely to be encountered by V2X, said Gusikhin.
Back on earth, consider a vehicle that has just crashed, he noted. It needs to make an emergency call. But the accident took place in an area where no cellular signals are available, Gusikhin said. The vehicle needs to find another means of communication (other than a straight cell phone call) to report the accident and get help.
Gusikhin described the future of V2X as based not a single, but “multiple communication protocols, networks, and channels,” ranging from Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), LTE, and/or 3G pre-installed inside a car, to On-star–like services and the driver’s own mobile phone. The disabled vehicle could automatically send an emergency message to another vehicle passing by via DRSC. In turn, that car could automatically route the signal to nearby V2I-equipped traffic lights, or find a different cellular tower to communicate.
In short, the future of V2X depends on the development of a system in which vehicles can figure out the most appropriate signal, protocol, channel, and network to use in relaying messages in the most efficient and reliable manner -- depending on how important the message.
Telematics students and Professor Kurochkin
In association with Ford, students from the Telematics Department of St. Petersburg Polytechnic University and Professor Mikhail Kurochkin analyze model space rover movements.
(Photo: Ford Motor Co.)
To investigate connected-vehicle communications, and to aid in the advancement of emergency vehicle communication methods, “we are studying a multi-protocol gateway system that can be put to work in a delay-tolerant network,” explained Gusikhin.
To that end, Ford in January began a three-year research partnership with the telematics department of Russia's St. Petersburg Polytechnic University in its association with that country’s space industry. The goal of this relationship is “to analyze space-based robotic communications systems for vehicle mesh networks to aid in mobility solutions,” according to Ford.
Ford and the St. Petersburg team are about to publish a paper detailing the results of their first-year joint project, said Gusikhin.
Using the knowledge gained from analyzing the space robots, Ford engineers could then develop an algorithm that, when integrated into the V2X system, creates messages that route through the appropriate network.
In the V2X world, emergency calls aren’t the only likely signals, however. Just as the earthbound send a host of different signals to remotely control robots in space, V2X will send remotely controlled signals to “optimize vehicles’ powertrain or engine parameters,” said Gusikhin, in hopes of reducing traffic accidents and ease congestion. V2X will enable vehicles to communicate with each other and with buildings, traffic lights, the “cloud” and other systems to deliver messages or detect and respond to imminent collision warnings.
Describing the first-year results as successful, Gusikhin told EE Times, “We’re also considering adding new partners” to the project.
Associate Professor Vladimir Mulukha with humanoid “Justin.”
Associate Professor Vladimir Mulukha, PhD, Telematics Department of St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, shakes hands with the mobile humanoid “Justin,” one type of robot utilized in Ford’s space robots research project to advance connected-vehicle communications.
(Photo: Ford Motor Co.)