If a car is really ‘autonomous,’ why V2X?

If a car is really ‘autonomous,’ why V2X?

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By eeNews Europe


Think jetpacks.

In contrast, for the automotive industry, the future of autonomous cars is real, urgent, and significant. For this technology, the industry’s undivided attention, engineering efforts, and smart decisions are needed today, not 10 years from now.

The question splitting the automotive industry now is what level of V2X services — including both communication between vehicles, V2V (vehicle to vehicle) services, and V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) services — are necessary before the future of fully autonomous cars becomes reality.

In other words, as the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) used in smartcars further improves, and cellular services such as LTE proliferate, do autonomous cars even need to wait for the elusive V2X future?

Speaking of the lengthy regulatory process necessary to get the mandate done ("a minimum of eight years") and the time it takes ("15 to 20 years") to actually put a sufficient proportion of cars on the road to realize the V2X dream, Roger Lanctot, associate director of Strategy Analytics, bluntly told me, "Bottom line, this is really not going to happen."

What changed?
Several forces, currently at work, might dramatically change the original V2X concept from the blueprint initially drawn up by the automotive industry and government bureaucrats years ago.

First, the biggest force sweeping the automotive industry today is the smartphone. "Back in 2007, when Japan originally mapped out the V2I plan, we’ve never imagined the proliferation of smartphones in this magnitude," observed a spokesman of ITS Japan in a recent interview with EE Times in Tokyo.

There’s also the Google factor. Google currently runs its semi-autonomous vehicles with no V2X support. "On-board LIDAR/RADAR/ camera technology is not V2X," stressed Ian Riches, Strategy Analytics’ director responsible for global automotive practice. "The vehicle is not communicating with anything, but rather directly sensing its environment independently of every other vehicle and the infrastructure."

A third factor is the cost to deploy V2X. Juniper Research’s Anthony Cox, in his blog posted earlier this year, wrote:

For V2X to really work it needs to be wide-scale and it is only truly effective if the take-up level is high (some suggest over 97%). To date there is little indication of how quickly this will happen but, for sure, it must be a long way off. Getting V2X technology into vehicles will be the biggest challenge. While it is possible that it could be mandated that new vehicles should be furnished with V2X technology, the challenge on how V2X should be installed in existing vehicles will remain for many years to come.

Fourth, there are too many other technologies available now, beyond Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) tech operating at the 5.9 GHz frequency based on 802.11p, whose mandate in a future car for V2V communication is being considered in the United States.

Strategy Analytics’ Lanctot noted, there are "too many alternative paths to delivering comparable performance [to V2X] from sensor-based, telecom-based or WiFi-based technologies."

Lanctot added, "Most important likely and emerging alternatives are LTE Advanced — which includes proximity communication between modules not requiring tower-only communication — WiFi Direct, and both embedded modems and smartphone-based technologies." Further, "executives at both GM and Qualcomm have proposed handset deployment of DSRC technology, which may even enable pedestrian detection, though DSRC purists scoff at this."

The very notion of integrating DSRC into smartphones is interesting. It could even bypass the quandary of how to retrofit cars without DSRC.

Strategy Analytics’ Riches told EE Times, "The smartphone is becoming ubiquitous amongst vehicle owners. When is the last time you took a drive without one?" He contends that leveraging the LTE platform could lead to a much more rapid rollout of V2X capabilities across the fleet.

Of course, there are critics who are worried about LTE’s latency issues. Riches, while conceding the point, noted, "They may have a point for some highly time-critical situations — but these are the ones that are often better served with on-board sensors."

Big mistake
Perhaps, one of the biggest mistakes the United States is making in its vision for the future of V2X is the conspicuous absence of US mobile operators in the debate, according to Egil Juliussen, HIS Automotive’s principal analyst responsible for infotainment and ADAS. He pointed out that cellular operators are natural partners for V2X, because their cell towers can integrate V2I. Without leveraging the cellular infrastructure to integrate V2I, V2X will be a much more expensive proposition. In contrast, he told us, in Europe, the mobile industry has been actively participating in V2X trials.

Riches, pointing out that most government and big-industry developments are avoiding LTE, said, "That could be a big mistake."

He elaborated: "If certain vehicle functions are only available when the car is connected via some form of V2X, then those functions can only take off when there is a significant proportion of the road network and/or fleet that supports those technologies. It’s building a new network from scratch."

How the industry will deal with V2X’s lack of scalability remains unknown. "It’s a bit crazy," Riches added, "and no one has really explained to me who is going to pay for it all."

Meanwhile, Japan, which has gone ahead with building ITS (Intelligent Transportation System) spot services infrastructure, appears to be going through a major rethinking of its strategy.





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