Connectivity is key to ITS future

Image: Row.jpg

“We are moving from research to implementation,” said Shelly Row at the SAE 2012 World Congress panel session titled "How The Connected Vehicle is Changing the Safety Paradigm." She is Director of the U. S. Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office.

“The intelligent vehicle is to be a connected vehicle,” said Andrew Brown, Executive Director and Chief Technologist for Delphi. He was the panel moderator for an SAE 2012 World Congress panel session April 26 addressing intelligent transportation systems (ITS).

He presented some hard data gleaned from U.S. government research published in late 2011. There were 5.5 million crashes resulting in 2.2 million injuries and 33,963 deaths in 2009. Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people ages 4 through 34. Congestion eats up 4.2 billion of our collective hours sitting in traffic, wasting 2.8 billion gal (11 billion L) of fuel per year. Smarter driving will help in so many ways, he said.

Brown said ITS using advanced wireless communications could share data and information among vehicles, infrastructure, and people. Subcategories of ITS are called V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) and V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle)—together called V2X.

Deployment timing is uncertain, but Brown said it is likely to start around 2015. Penetration will become significant by 2020, prevalent by 2025.

Pilot program

“The connected vehicle is a game-changing technology,” said panelist Shelly Row, Director of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. She noted that 80% of nonimpaired crashes may be affected (or avoided) through connected-vehicle technology.

Reality is closer than it used to be. “We are moving from research to implementation,” she said, emphasizing that this might be the most important thing she has to say in the panel. “The focus is on pragmatic, practical, and most viable solutions.” Yet, she cautioned, there are complex problems yet to be solved.

Her program is supporting a decision point in 2013 to be made by NHTSA (National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration). In that year, the agency must decide if the technology is ready for: a) regulatory implementation, b) inclusion in NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program to give car makers credit for voluntary inclusion, or c) decide if more research is needed.

To prove the benefit, data will be provided through a safety pilot program. There will be a model deployment in Ann Arbor, MI, in August 2012 to prove some of these points. It will include both V2V and V2I, and will test aftermarket devices for updating the existing fleet. “A security system is key to making this a practically implementable system,” she said, a fact agreed to by many panelists. Another concept that is part of the pilot is smart intersections. These will warn of cars, pedestrians, or bikes, approaching from cross streets.

Automakers and safety

Paul Mascarenas, Ford Chief Technical Officer and Vice President, Research and Innovation, participated on the panel as well. “The expected benefits of V2X technology are truly compelling,” he said—especially in combination with wireless technology and GPS. “I like to describe this as providing [drivers] 360-degree awareness."

“Working together as an industry is key to bringing this technology to our customers,” said Mascarenas. Most importantly, a critical mass of V2V devices installed in the existing fleet—not just new cars—is vital for an effective system. He said he has seen data predicting effective penetration rates of 80% to get full benefit for safety, and as low as 40% to get benefit in terms of reducing congestion.

Jay Joseph, Senior Manager, Product Regulatory Office, Honda, explained during the session that he views V2X as the next, natural progression from today’s cars equipped with sensors connected to brakes, to autonomous driving. V2X connectivity has the potential to prevent even the possibility of crash, he said.

Joseph also pointed out that the next generation of drivers may have a different view of distracted driving. “For the next generation of drivers, driving is the distraction,” he said.

A wider net

Tom Metzger, Senior Vice President of Global Sales, Connected Vehicle Services, Agero, explained that his company has been involved with connected-vehicle trials since 1995. The company provides roadside and connected vehicle services to more than 80 million customers.

Based on data on past technology introductions, he believes it could take about three decades for full deployment. He presented data that showed it took about 30 years for front airbags to reach 95% total penetration of the on-road fleet. For forward-collision warning, it may take 45 years (this is without aftermarket retrofitting of the existing fleet). Crash data from cars could become a component of next-generation 911—i.e. data-driven emergency response using V2V data.

Brian Fontes also spoke about next-generation 911 and its ability to receive data automatically from wired and connected cars. He is the CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the professional organization focused on 911 policy, technology, operations, and education.

Win Williams, Area Vice President, Emerging Devices for AT&T, discussed the challenges required to make devices easier to use. A major challenge is the amount of data involved—hundreds megabytes potentially. Another is the much faster development cycles for electronics (one to two years) compared to automotive (four or more years).

Realities and commitment

Row, the ITS Project Manager from the DOT, laid out important public-policy realities. The department currently has the authority to implement V2V but not to require installation of infrastructure by the states, she said. The latter is key to practical V2I.

There are questions about funding. Row said the DOT is open to most options to pay for the system, with one exception: no monthly subscriptions. “Drivers should not have to pay a monthly subscription fee to be safe,” she said. “That is off the table.”

All panelists stressed that the industry must collaborate to create standards and protocols for ITS to work, whether the entity is private or public. “I think we are further along than asking if we need collaboration,” said Joseph from Honda. “That step is there; it is really a question of how do we get commitment.”

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