Debating IntelliDrive’s future

  • 23-Aug-2010 09:15 EDT

DSRC lets cars share data, but there is no consensus on how, or if, it will be deployed.

Though the government’s decision on whether to actually deploy IntelliDrive won’t be made until 2013, there’s an ongoing debate over how quickly the communications technology could begin making an impact. Building a critical mass of vehicles will take time, and maintaining the infrastructure could be costly.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is still developing the wireless networking technology and determining how it can improve safety, reduce congestion, and conserve fuel. In 2013, government officials will decide if and how IntelliDrive will be deployed. Many observers feel that, given all the time and money that has already been invested, there is a high likelihood that the technology will be deployed.

If the communications network does move forward, a time frame for its impact is more nebulous than its rollout. Both the vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) require a fair number of vehicles to provide significant benefits.

“The first people to buy cars with vehicle-to-vehicle communications will be pretty lonely,” said Thilo Koslowski, Automotive Vice President for Gartner Inc. “IntelliDrive will need a critical mass to make it useful, we need to get 10-20% of the vehicles on the road so data will be useful.”

That critical mass might be achieved more quickly if dedicated short range communications (DSRC) transceivers are piggybacked into telematics hardware, which is expected to have reached significant volume by the latter half of the decade when IntelliDrive may start moving into the field.

Many telematics system suppliers are open to the idea of adding transceivers into their modules. “We’re agnostic. If there’s a national network for DSRC and it makes sense to put that in the telematics box, why not?” said Erik Goldman, President of Hughes Telematics.

However, there is still a big question as to who will pay for these transceivers, which will communicate on a dedicated 5.9-GHz channel. Neither automakers nor telematics suppliers are likely to voluntarily include the communications chips, and consumers aren’t likely to pay for communication devices that may not provide benefits for a few years.

“Some sort of stimulus will have to come from the government,” Koslowski said. “Consumers won’t be willing to pay for it until they see a real, tangible benefit.”

There is concern that a DSRC infrastructure will be expensive to install and keep up. Two IntelliDrive goals, reducing traffic congestion and cutting fuel consumption and emissions, require V2I links. Roadside towers will gather data on traffic movement and then compile it to help drivers find travel alternatives or delay journeys until traffic jams abate.

“Nationally, it will be a vast network that needs to be maintained,” Goldman said. “Communication technology changes rapidly, so the ongoing expense will be significant.”

Some observers question whether DSRC will be needed for roadside monitoring. Telematics system transceivers and cell phones can provide data on vehicle location, which can be analyzed to determine traffic speed and congestion levels.

If telematics expands as quickly as most analysts and marketers predict, a solid percentage of vehicles on roadways will have transceivers by the latter half of the decade. “Getting a critical mass of vehicles will be easy,” said John Horn, T-Mobile’s National Director of Machine to Machine Communications. “The infrastructure will be able to gather information on the movement of modules.”

However, he noted that there will still be a need for many infrastructure receiving stations as well as for powerful servers that will make sense of the data that are gathered. These servers will have to understand what’s happening on roadways and send useful, concise messages to drivers so they can alter their plans. That will require sophisticated software.

“Writing the algorithms that analyze all this data will be where the secret sauce comes in,” Horn said. “Tools need to be sophisticated enough to know whether traffic is stopped for a red light or whether a lane is blocked.”

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