Calling all (intelligent) cars

  • 11-May-2009 03:36 EDT
Field operation tests were conducted in major metropolitan areas of Japan in 2008 for the Smartway project.

­Smart highway proponents in the U.S. are rallying for a highway-to-vehicle communication system as Japan is ready to start a nationwide vehicle-to-infrastructure deployment.

Japan's roadway-to-vehicle communication setup uses 5.8-GHz Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) roadside antennas and onboard vehicle units. Information reaches the driver through the vehicle's navigation system (providing image and audio) or by a stand-alone audio-only unit.

"Smartway is a road system which can exchange various types of information among cars, drivers, pedestrians, and other roadway users," said Hideyuki Kanoshima, Senior Research in the Intelligent Transport Systems Division, National Institute for Land and Infrastructure Management (NILIM) for Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, during the First International State of the Connected Vehicle Summit. Hosts for the April 16-17 event in Detroit were the Connected Vehicle Trade Association (CVTA) and SAE International.

Following field tests in several metropolitan locations, the Smartway project is being prepped for a nationwide rollout in a country with 7383 km (4588 mi) of expressways. "The target of the Smartway project is that a single onboard unit can provide not only conventional services but also various new services like safety driving assistance, road condition information with still image, wide (view) traffic (congestion) information, and parking lot payment," said Kanoshima.

The Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA) oversaw the standard specifications for onboard units, while NILIM and the Highway Industry Development Organization (HIDO) worked on the specification for the DSRC roadside equipment. Twenty-three companies and the government participated in the Smartway project. "Japan has a long history of doing things on a national basis for transportation," said Scott McCormick, President of the CVTA.

As Japan begins launching a nationwide vehicle-to-roadway communications program, the U.S. has moved beyond its VII (Vehicle Infrastructure Integration) program. "The VII program was premised on the model of using DSRC for all applications—for safety, mobility, tolling, and commercial (truck) applications," said Shelley Row, Director of the Intelligent Transportation Systems in the Joint Program Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Tests for VII were done in specific locations in Michigan and California.

"While we were doing tests, the world of technology moved on," said Row. "We've seen explosive growth of handheld technologies—such as cell phones and PDAs—which have a tremendous capacity to gather information that can be of use to transportation managers. All of these technology changes—Wi-Fi, WiMax, and the growth of consumer electronics—meant that we needed to re-access the original premise of VII that was DSRC for everything. DSRC is clearly the only thing we know of today that can do active safety. But there are many things—Wi-Fi, WiMax, cellular—that can do mobility applications that don't require low-latency communication."

The renamed program, IntelliDrive, is "much broader than just the DSRC vision that we had originally," said Row. Final documentation and reports are being assembled on the proof-of-concept tests done in Michigan and California. IntelliDrive is "the brand for all of the research and work that we're doing to try to get to deployment," said Row.

IntelliDrive does face some hurdles. "No sustainable financing mechanism is in place for transportation at any level of government," said Joyce Wenger, Principal with Booz Allen Hamilton, a strategy and technology consulting firm based in Virginia. The next steps for IntelliDrive could be stymied due to the "current economic turmoil, the financial condition of the auto industry, and the current Congressional focus on near-term vehicle safety and environmental regulations," according to Wenger.

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