Communications key to safety

  • 05-Nov-2008 01:31 EST
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DOT’s challenge: “to reduce the number of crashes by 90% by 2030,” said Paul R. Brubaker.
Over the next few years, communications will play an increasing role in a drive to improve safety on America’s roadways. Messages sent from roadside beacons and between vehicles can help save lives and billions of dollars, though much work is still needed to implement communication technologies that must be standardized.

Panelists from a range of fields focused on the need for a compatible infrastructure that will enable the advance of connected and autonomous vehicles during a Blue Ribbon Panel at the recent Convergence 2008 conference. Safety will play a key role in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) efforts to promote and fund communications between cars and with roadside information stations.

“We’ve challenged the DOT research organization to reduce the number of crashes by 90% by 2030,” said Paul R. Brubaker, Administrator, U.S. DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology.

That will save 383,000 lives and $2 trillion during the period from 2030 to 2040. The cost of accidents is not widely recognized, so it will be a key element in DOT’s discussion on this issue.

Techniques such as dedicated short range communications (DSRC) and Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) need a number of elements before they can be implemented. Brubaker did not estimate a time for the rollout of VII, but it is close enough that a rebranding is coming soon. “We don’t want customers asking us what this ‘seven’ is,” he quipped.

The communication systems will reduce accidents by informing drivers of issues that they need to account for such as traffic stoppages or slowdowns. Making sure that there is enough time for them to respond is a critical aspect.

“DSRC has a 500-m range. When you’re in Germany driving 200 km/h, that provides a 10 s time to respond to an alert that there’s a traffic jam just around a blind intersection,” said Dr. Peter E. Rieth, Senior Vice President Systems & Technology at Continental.

Several technologies must be developed concurrently for these communications to occur. A key is to settle on standards and architectures that make it simple to integrate them into vehicles.

“Without open architectures, you won’t have integration and you won’t have growth,” said John Waraniak, Vice President of Vehicle Technology, Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).

As with any network, security and privacy are also issues. “A denial of service could really impact the person driving the vehicle,” said Anup Sable, Vice President of KPIT Cummins Automotive Line of Business. “Whether you’re communicating car-to-infrastructure or car-to-car, security must be part of every layer.”

As communications advance, researchers are also hoping to improve safety by having vehicles operate autonomously. This is also a ways off, but technologies and techniques are progressing.

“Automotive radar systems have come a long way, and high dynamic range cameras that can see in bright sunlight and dim lighting have also come a long way,” said Chris Urmson, Assistant Research Professor, Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University. Urmson noted that five vehicles completed the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Urban Challenge last year, marking a significant advance from the first DARPA Grand Challenge, when no vehicle completed the race through the desert.
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