MADISON, Wisc. — For most consumers, self-driving cars are still stuff of the future, despite Google's popular driverless car demo and its breathless coverage in some of the media's more gullible precincts. Many of us may not live long enough to be driven in one of those.
In contrast, for the automotive industry, the future of autonomous cars is real, urgent, and significant. For this technology, the industry's undivided attention, engineering efforts, and smart decisions are needed today, not 10 years from now.
The question splitting the automotive industry now is what level of V2X services -- including both communication between vehicles, V2V (vehicle to vehicle) services, and V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) services -- are necessary before the future of fully autonomous cars becomes reality.
In other words, as the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) used in smartcars further improves, and cellular services such as LTE proliferate, do autonomous cars even need to wait for the elusive V2X future?
Speaking of the lengthy regulatory process necessary to get the mandate done ("a minimum of eight years") and the time it takes ("15 to 20 years") to actually put a sufficient proportion of cars on the road to realize the V2X dream, Roger Lanctot, associate director of Strategy Analytics, bluntly told me, "Bottom line, this is really not going to happen."
Several forces, currently at work, might dramatically change the original V2X concept from the blueprint initially drawn up by the automotive industry and government bureaucrats years ago.
First, the biggest force sweeping the automotive industry today is the smartphone. "Back in 2007, when Japan originally mapped out the V2I plan, we've never imagined the proliferation of smartphones in this magnitude," observed a spokesman of ITS Japan in a recent interview with EE Times in Tokyo.
There's also the Google factor. Google currently runs its semi-autonomous vehicles with no V2X support. "On-board LIDAR/RADAR/ camera technology is not V2X," stressed Ian Riches, Strategy Analytics' director responsible for global automotive practice. "The vehicle is not communicating with anything, but rather directly sensing its environment independently of every other vehicle and the infrastructure."
A third factor is the cost to deploy V2X. Juniper Research's Anthony Cox, in his blog posted earlier this year, wrote:
For V2X to really work it needs to be wide-scale and it is only truly effective if the take-up level is high (some suggest over 97%). To date there is little indication of how quickly this will happen but, for sure, it must be a long way off. Getting V2X technology into vehicles will be the biggest challenge. While it is possible that it could be mandated that new vehicles should be furnished with V2X technology, the challenge on how V2X should be installed in existing vehicles will remain for many years to come.
Fourth, there are too many other technologies available now, beyond Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) tech operating at the 5.9 GHz frequency based on 802.11p, whose mandate in a future car for V2V communication is being considered in the United States.
Strategy Analytics' Lanctot noted, there are "too many alternative paths to delivering comparable performance [to V2X] from sensor-based, telecom-based or WiFi-based technologies."