Will DOT force trucks to talk?

  • 21-Sep-2012 08:45 EDT
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Telematics systems from Peterbilt tap into vehicle networks to provide data that help drivers improve efficiency.

While fleet owners determine if and how to implement telematics links, the U.S. government is working with many in transportation to determine the fate of another wireless communication technology. After roughly a decade of research into dedicated short range communications (DSRC), U.S. government agencies are preparing to decide whether to mandate adoption.

DSRC will let vehicles talk to each other and to roadside towers. In 2014, NHTSA (U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is scheduled to decide whether to mandate DSRC in heavy vehicles. That decision will follow a 2013 pronouncement for passenger cars.

When vehicles can tell each other that they are braking and towers can alert drivers that a vehicle is emerging from a hidden intersection, safety can be improved. Proponents tout additional benefits.

“With connected-vehicle technology, we’re trying to prevent crashes,” said Mike Schagrin, Connected Vehicle Safety Program Manager for U.S. Department of Transportation. “In the area of mobility, we’re trying to improve traffic flow as well as reduce emissions.”

Those in trucking feel it could bring additional benefits. When trucks know vehicles in front of them are stopping, safety and fuel economy can both be improved.

“There are different criterion for different vehicle owners,” said Cristin Paun, Manager Advanced Engineering, NAFTA, for Daimler Trucks. “In the trucking industry, there’s a high turnaround rate so many drivers are inexperienced. Safety is a big factor in this instance. For other owners, fuel economy may be more important.”

There’s some talk that DSRC could gain a foothold even if governments don’t require it. If it can save fleet owners fuel and trim delivery times, owners can easily justify the cost of communications gear. For example, vehicles that talk to each other can shorten following distances and move at slightly higher speeds.

“DSRC lets companies convoy vehicles together. It is something we’re monitoring. We feel there may be activity in the future,” said Matt Cullum, Electrical Engineering Manager at Peterbilt Motors Co.

However, DSRC may face something of a challenge from Wi-Fi. The ubiquitous wireless network is being used by some to send data from vehicles to maintenance staffs. Once it’s installed for that role, Wi-Fi could also send messages to vehicles nearby on roadways. Some companies feel the cost and ease of use of Wi-Fi may give it an edge over DSRC.

“We have no immediate plans to offer any services based on DSRC technology. When it comes to Wi-Fi, which may be included in a broader context of DSRC, we are currently evaluating this as part of our M2M offering,” said Andrea Sroczynski, Head of Global Automotive and Truck Sales at Telenor Connexion AB.

Pricing will be a key factor. Wi-Fi’s huge volumes and its tools and knowledge infrastructure can’t be discounted.

“Wi-Fi is just another means to communicate, like DSRC,” Cullum said. “Qualcomm already puts Wi-Fi in some products. Ultimately, it comes down to what you can deploy at cost. If there’s a push to adopt Wi-Fi, people may not want to go to DSRC.”

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