TOKYO — In hopes of enabling the future of self-driving cars, the United States is opting to make its cars smarter first, rather than building a smart highway infrastructure.
The United States is seeking a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) mandate, which might become reality as early as 2018, provided that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) follows through with its promise to make a decision in 2014.
In contrast, Japan began developing a vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) in 2011. Designed primarily for expressways, Japan's Driving Safety Support Systems uses bidirectional communication between vehicles and infrastructure to provide real-time road traffic information services. Alert on congestion or accidents are sent via radio wave beacon using Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC). They appear on the navigation screen in a car, by text, or graphical form.
Europe, meanwhile, sits in the middle. Europe has conducted more than a dozen, well-funded EU projects designed to explore both V2I and V2V deployments.
Egil Juliussen, principal analyst, responsible for Infotainment and ADAS at IHS Automotive, observed, "Considering the political reality of the United States, where none of the local governments seems to have money, the US will opt for V2V implementation first."
Unlike the United States, Europe is not seeking a V2V mandate. After the region spent five years trying to pass an e-call mandate and failed, Europe is gun-shy about taking the mandate route, explained IHS analyst Juliussen. But with the strong presence of the auto industry in Europe, V2I is likely to emerge in some parts of European countries as early as 2015, while V2V features are destined to be rolled into luxury cars soon, he said.
As far as V2I infrastructure is concerned, Japan has been able to leverage the nation's strong bureaucratic-industrial leadership, making the nation look years ahead, compared to other nations.
Recent interviews in Japan, however, suggest a major rethinking of what previously looked like Japan's "V2I-first" initiative.
Japan also faces a national budget crisis. It can no longer afford to keep building nationwide V2I.
Moreover, Japan's V2I system is limited in its actual rollout -- at just over 30 locations so far.
Japan's conventional V2I system -- based on the older Driving Safety Support Systems (DSSS) -- is also limited in functionality. Under the older DSSS, safety information is "broadcast" to every car regardless of each car's characteristics (speed, lane, braking patterns, location) on expressways. If the datacenter can gather such data as the speed of cars or how frequently brakes are used on specific parts of the road, it could presumably add more precision to the information, eventually tailoring an alert to each car.
Providing information on obstacles ahead (Source: Toyota)
Merging information (Source: Toyota)
Japan is now moving the nation's intelligent transportation system policy toward a more "harmonious" safety driving support system, according to a spokesman of ITS Japan, a private organization consisting of the automotive and related industries, academia and public users. "Harmonious" is a code word, illustrating that the nation is now pursuing both V2V and V2I in parallel.
Put more bluntly, Japan has now come to its senses. It has realized that building a roadside Intelligent Traffic System (ITS) alone won't do much to improve people's lives. The wake-up call came when the great earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March, 2011, according to the ITS Japan spokesman.