If vehicles could communicate directly with each other and share real-time information on road conditions, it would make for more informed drivers and eventually pave the way for self-driving cars.
A system called C-V2X, which backers purport can communicate information faster and better than existing alternatives, was demonstrated for the first time Tuesday at Panasonic North America’s facility near Denver International Airport.
“We can turn our cars into sensors, and we can send messages to cars about changing conditions,” said Chris Armstrong, director of Panasonic’s smart mobility program.
V2X stands for “vehicles to everything” and backers are trying to prove that the technology is a better way to carry the massive amounts of data a connected transportation grid would generate than an older alternative called Dedicated Short-Range Communications technology, or DSRC.
Qualcomm Technologies provides the chips for C-V2X; Ford Motors, which is also testing DSRC, is providing the vehicles; and Panasonic North America is developing the cloud-based data platform that pushes the traffic information out to users, like the Colorado Department of Transportation, another partner.
Cars with the technology send out signals 10 times a second detailing speed, direction and other information from their internal sensors, such as brakes and air bags, to nearby roadside sensors.
The river of data flows via fiber-optic networks into the Panasonic data platform, where it is filtered and organized so transportation workers can use it to monitor the road grid and spot emerging problems. When required, the system can deliver customized, just-in-time messages directly into equipped vehicles, providing alerts via display systems.
Have air bag sensors in two cars triggered and are vehicles braking hard where Interstate 70 curves into Interstate 225? An alert can be sent immediately to the drivers right behind the emerging jam, urging them to hit their brakes well before they can see the problem. For drivers farther back, the system can instantly suggest an alternate route, say to get off on Peoria Boulevard, alleviating congestion.
Has a pedestrian pushed the walk signal button at an intersection? The traffic light can warn nearby cars that it is about to change and tell drivers to stop rather than blow through the intersection.
Roadside sensors can detect changing weather conditions and communicate a warning, and so too can cars as their tires start slipping. Colorado Department of Transportation workers at a control center can be alerted quickly that a specific bridge or stretch of road is icing up and dispatch sand trucks to alleviate the problem.
Ford Motors is testing both DSRC and C-V2X technologies, and the latter has made an impression, said Naseem Sewani, an IT Strategic Portfolio Manager at the Detroit-based automaker.
“You can get the alerts way earlier,” Sewani said.
The ability of cars to connect with each other and with traffic infrastructure allows for several interesting applications, adds Jack Walpuck, a Ford engineer specializing in connected vehicle technology.
He demonstrated that in a simulation with a Ford F-150. Approaching an intersection with an obstructed view, a strategically located sensor provided video inside the cab of another test vehicle coming down the road. When Walpuck drove out of the parking lot into the path of an oncoming vehicle, the system warned him to stop.
The C-V2X technology operates within a bandwidth the Federal Communications Commission has dedicated for transportation uses. That means it can’t be used for other things, such as offering drivers $5 off a hamburger two miles before they reach a restaurant.
Nor does it transmit identifying information about the vehicle or driver, which will limit it uses by law enforcement.
The goal is to avoid creating any unnecessary distractions for drivers, while making them aware of critical items, with the hope of reducing the 40,000 traffic fatalities in the United States each year, Armstrong said.
As Walpuck pulled away from a stop sign and into the path of an oncoming vehicle, the system didn’t trigger an alert. Walpuck attributed that to his truck moving slow enough that the system knew it would avoid a direct hit, adding it is hard to purposely move into the path of a crash.
Panasonic is keeping the system open, which will allow for drivers with older unequipped vehicles to still see benefits. Google Maps or Waze can pick up the information and provide better information on traffic conditions.
One criticism of the new technology, aside from it not having proved itself yet, is that it is more expensive than DSRC. Amy Ford, a spokeswoman for CDOT, offered some cost scenarios.
Traffic signals in urban areas are increasingly connected to fiber optics, and converting to the new technology would involve swapping out hardware, Ford said. Outfitting rural areas in Colorado will be more complicated.
If there is fiber along a roadway, then the road can be equipped with the new technology at a cost of about $1 million for every 50 to 80 miles, Ford said. Along more isolated roads without fiber, the costs will rise substantially.
Another issue that needs to be sorted out is how to handle and interpret what could become a staggering flow of data. A Colorado road grid with C-V2X grid could send out 2 billion messages an hour on average, Ford said.
By comparison, Twitter moves about 500 million tweets in an entire day.