If both vehicles -- Ford and (Uber) Volvo -- had some form of V2V technology, would the outcome have been different?
While working on a story about the aftermath of a car crash that involved a driverless Uber vehicle, I came across two automotive industry analysts who brought up the same question: Could V2X have helped the Uber vehicle — which was in driverless mode when it hit a van and rolled over — avoid the collision?
The vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication technologies are collectively known as V2X.
After my initial interview, the Linley Group’s senior analyst, Mike Demler, sent me this message: “There is one thing I forgot to mention. If Tempe was a Smart City with V2X infrastructure, and the Ford and (Uber) Volvo had V2X, the DSRC messaging could have warned the Volvo of an impending collision.”
Ian Riches, director of global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics, also wondered whether this outcome would have been different “if both vehicles had some form of V2V technology.”
Uber isn’t offering any insights as to what went wrong in the crash.
Uber accident scene last Friday in Tempe, Arizona
However, the company, after suspending its development operations and passenger pilots for the post-crash weekend, put “dozens of” their driverless robo-Ubers on the road in Tempe and Pittsburgh Monday afternoon and resumed passenger pilots. In San Francisco, Uber released two “development vehicles” Monday morning.
We know that no autonomous car today is designed with the emergence of V2X in mind.
But for developers like Uber, V2X might be worth thinking about, as added sensory data input that can make their vehicles safer. The sensors already in driverless cars are there to detect visible objects in the present. V2X can predict the future — allowing the car to sense possible trouble beyond its line of sight, like Peter Parker’s spider-sense.
An alert 3 seconds before the crash?
I called Savari, which makes V2X software. Savari confirmed that the University of Arizona has an active V2X pilot in the Phoenix/Tempe area.
Asked about the Uber vehicle mishap in Tempe, Franz Tschimben, Savari’s strategy honcho, said, "We can’t be 100 percent sure the crash could have been avoided if both cars had V2X technology."
However, he stressed, “We do know that the driver/tester in the Uber car would have received an alert about three seconds before the crash to take control of the vehicle.”
This would occur because the cars are talking to each other, sending information about their speed and position, and Savari’s software provides “Path Prediction” which would have seen the looming collision if all things stayed the same, he explained.
These three extra seconds turn out significant. Tschimben noted, “Having three extra seconds allows the physical or robot driver to take necessary action to try and avoid the crash. Additionally, the car that caused the accident would have alerted the driver about three seconds before collision to also take action.”
But let’s not forget the obvious.
Even if Tempe was a “smart city” with V2X infrastructure, as Tschimben explained, “You would still need both cars in the described accident above to have V2X technology to try and avoid the crash.”
Therein lies the rub. However, this is possibly a fixable problem, if and when V2X gets mandated.
Just last week, I came across a press release by Autotalks (Kfar Netter, Israel), a developer of V2X chipsets, announcing that the company “raised $30 million in Round D funding to accelerate global deployment of V2V communication for improving road safety.”
Next page: Looming deadline
The press release subhead breathlessly says “V2V communication expected to be deployed in US in new vehicles starting in 2019; Funding follows major design wins with leading Tier-1s and OEMs.”
Autotalks points out that the closing of the company’s funding round came on the heels of a US Department of Transportation’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will mandate DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication) V2V in all new light vehicles sold in the US by 2023. Autotalks’ assumption is that to meet this target of V2V mandate by 2023, “deployments will start in 2019.”
However, still unclear is the big question of whether this will really become a mandate, especially among the virulently anti-regulatory crowd who have descended on Washington.
I got in touch with Drue Freeman, an independent consultant, advisor, investor and experienced global automotive semiconductor executive. He’s a well-known V2X advocate, also on the advisory board at Savari. Knowing he has skin in the game, I figured he must know the latest V2X political intrigue as well as anyone.
April 12th – 15 days from now – is a key date to remember because that’s the comment deadline for proposed rulemaking on V2X communication. Asked how things are going, Freeman said, “I have not seen anything that would suggest the plan has gone off track and all indications are that the NHTSA NPRM process is continuing uninterrupted under Secretary (Elaine) Chao.”
Of course, he was careful to point out, “I would say in the current environment, nothing is a ‘done deal.’ It’s not easy to predict what the Trump administration will ultimately decide to do.”
But who are lobbying for DSRC-based V2X today?
Freeman noted that a number of car OEMs, US and overseas, continue to lobby for DSRC-based V2X through channels including the Global Automotive Alliance and various standards bodies like SAE and IEEE.
As far as V2X-capable cars are concerned, General Motors is known to be in production with the Cadillac CTS. But who else? Freeman said, “There are at least four other active automotive programs and one major motorcycle program ongoing right now.” He added, “This bodes well for DSRC chipset players like Autotalks and NXP as well as software and system providers like Savari.”
But what about outside the United States? Any DSRC takers?
Freeman believes there is still momentum overseas as well with 5.9GHz deployments in countries like Australia and Singapore, the ITS Corridor in Europe, and the 700MHz DSRC deployment by Toyota in Japan.
To understand the current DSRC debate, it’s critical to know about the spectrum-sharing controversy.
In Freeman’s opinion, this is a chronic controversy.
In October 1999, the Federal Communications Commission in the United States allocated 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band to be used by V2X.
Of the spectrum allotted to DSRC, the telecom/mobile industry still wants to share the 5.9GHz spectrum. Release 14 of the LTE Standard incorporates a preliminary specification for LTE-based V2X.
Freeman said, “Getting the specification done [for LTE-based V2X] is good first step, but there has yet to be any real field testing.” Unless a spectrum sharing agreement emerges, no spectrum is available for LTE based V2X.
The same group of companies [promoting LTE-based V2X], together with the likes of Qualcomm, are at the core of the 5GAA (5G Automotive Association), which is driving the Cellular-V2X, initiative, Freeman explained.
“This group continues to lobby strongly against the mandate and undoubtedly have been using the comment period to throw shade on DSRC.”
Freeman is not opposed to 5G. He said, “I remain convinced that 5G will eventually bring some great benefits to V2X due to the increased bandwidth.”
But in his opinion, “Real 5G Cellular-V2X won’t even be completely defined until Release 15+ of the Cellular Standard, and there still has not been any extensive field testing done to ensure the system operates as expected under various conditions, or that various On-Board Units and Road-Side Units are interoperable.”
Whatever gets broadly deployed will need to be thoroughly vetted, and this is why Freeman believes that neither LTE-V2X nor 5G Cellular-V2X can fit the bill.
Freeman said, “Even if we start to see some kind of spectrum sharing and possibly a transition towards 5G in the long run it will be an enhancement of V2X and not merely a delay of an additional five years.”
Impact on V2X players
So, what does this controversy mean to V2X players?
Freeman sees that Qualcomm, while driving 5GAA, will also have a strong horse in the DSRC race following the NXP merger.
He added, “Savari is prepared to support whatever 5.9GHz spectrum rule the FCC ultimately specifies, but we strongly believe the full spectrum should be dedicated for V2X.” He added, “If there is allocation of 5.9GHz spectrum for cellular, there should be isolation of spectrum for both DSRC and Cellular V2X.”
Companies like Savari, who make the software, including the application layers, can ultimately be successful on Cellular V2X as well as DSRC, Freeman claimed.
“They would only have a problem if the Trump administration kills the whole V2X initiative, which I don’t think is a likely scenario. But like I said at the beginning, I cannot predict what the Trump administration will ultimately decide.”
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times