The proposed federal mandate for vehicle-to-vehicle communications may be on life support, but carmakers and cities are using grass-roots efforts at forums and symposiums around the country to get the technology working without federal government backing.
Could it work? It would take massive industry coordination, while also not running afoul of antitrust laws, but it’s possible, experts say.
“The regulation is just a small piece of this puzzle,” said Hideki Hada, an executive engineer in technical strategy at Toyota Motor North America. “Technology is developed in many areas in the United States by the infrastructure providers. The regulation will definitely help, but the ground is set so companies can start preparing their projects.”
Vehicles that can communicate safety and traffic information with each other and surrounding infrastructure are viewed as the next leap in reducing traffic accidents. The National Safety Council estimates there were 40,100 U.S. motor vehicle deaths in 2017, the second straight year the total has been around 40,000 after not reaching that level since 2007.
Advocates of connected cars are confident a proposed rule under review by NHTSA that would mandate integration of dedicated short-range communications, or DSRC, the standard underlying vehicle connectivity, will ultimately be approved, but argue it may not be necessary to begin introducing “talking cars.” But integration of the technology into vehicles has slowed because of the emergence of cellular technology that may provide greater benefits to a wider geographic area and eventually take advantage of 5G cellular networks.
The proposed federal rule under review by NHTSA, which, if approved in 2019, would require new vehicles sold in 2023 in the U.S. to have DSRC-based V2V connectivity, has encountered delays. That leaves carmakers and suppliers in the lurch, unwilling to commit to the technology out of fear that systems would be outdated within a few years.
“It’s impacting final decision-making,” said Hagai Zyss, CEO of Autotalks, a vehicle connectivity company that supplies chipsets for DSRC, of the proposal’s slowdown. “Many are becoming proactive in saying: We’re just going to do it. Others say the process is stalled.”
The uncertainty prevents the significant market penetration experts say is needed to achieve desired safety and environmental benefits. Only one commercially available production vehicle in the U.S., the Cadillac CTS, has V2V capability.
In lieu of federal action, the onus to push forward with connected technology has shifted to state transportation departments that were collaborators with carmakers in development of DSRC standards.
“We’ve been working with government and industry partners for over 10 years,” said Toyota’s Hada. Now, “we partner in those discussions with state DOTs to promote DSRC for V2I communications and we also are engaged in industry discussions for supporting their initiatives.”
Relationships formed between industry players and state regulatory authorities in the decadelong development of V2V technology have found new uses.
Carmakers have found neutral ground to convene at conferences and meetings held by transportation planners and connectivity integration companies, trying to use the promise of vehicle-to-infrastructure deployment as an incentive for the industry to go all-in on DSRC.
In Japan, where the government has strongly supported deployment, Toyota has sold nearly 100,000 vehicles with the technology.
In the U.S., connected infrastructure efforts are scattered, ranging from a single traffic light intersection in Ohio to an entire community in Anthem, Ariz., with 10,000 vehicles, including emergency vehicles.
“We would be better off if the mandate would pass,” said Larry Head, a professor at the University of Arizona’s Transportation Research Institute who has spent years researching vehicle connectivity. “But I see more grass-roots effort around this technology and getting it into the infrastructure.”
Head, who just attended a conference in Salt Lake City, said the mandate is a big topic of conversation at dinner because everyone hopes it will pass. But even without the mandate, he feels like V2V tech is going to happen. “There’s a pretty big commitment to the technology, both on the auto manufacturer side and the infrastructure side,” he said.
One initiative organized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the National Operations Center of Excellence aims to have DSRC-based vehicle-to-infrastructure technology installed on roadways in all states by 2020.
Some view ramping up DSRC-based vehicle-to-infrastructure projects as a way to focus the discussion around the technology.
“The purpose of the whole engagement was stop talking from a PowerPoint perspective. It hasn’t been functional,” said Jarrett Wendt, executive vice president of Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. “Stop the discussion about if it’s DSRC or cellular, stop the discussion of the mandate and start producing some data.”
Panasonic is collaborating with the Colorado Department of Transportation to create a statewide operating system for connected technologies, slated to be fully operational by 2021.
Wendt said the company is in discussions with other states and carmakers to introduce similar systems across the U.S.
But Head said local governments and transportation experts should take the initiative to start building out the infrastructure, to prove to automakers their investments will be worth it.
“What comes first, the equipped car or the equipped infrastructure? Why don’t we show that we’re going to be good partners in this?” Head said. “The auto manufacturers will trust us. We have to do something. That’s the sentiment in the room.”
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