The road to becoming interconnected
Privacy concerns could delay the inevitable — when cars can ‘talk’ to each other
As a society, we’ve come to not only accept but expect being connected 24/7 — even in our cars. But connectivity in cars can mean different things in different contexts.
In the near future, those meanings are likely to include cars that can effectively “talk” to each other.
At the most basic level of connectivity, a vehicle can be connected to the world of infotainment via Bluetooth cellphone connections, GPS navigation systems or satellite radio, as examples.
Almost all new models already offer these connections to varying degrees, up to and including active nav- igation with traffic advisories, onboard Wi-Fi hot spots, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay — which effectively make your vehicle an extension of your smartphone.
Beyond infotainment, however, connectivity also plays a role in the advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that are becoming increasingly common across the vehicle range. These systems may include everything from proximity monitors, cross-traffic alerts and blindspot warning systems to adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping and automatic collision-avoidance braking systems — the latter of which will become standard equipment on all models by 2022, if not before.
They also encompass park assist or automatic self-parking systems as well as obstacle-avoidance steering assistance systems, just now coming to market.
These ADAS features can identify a broad range of vehicles, people and other objects around them, but it’s a one-way connection. They don’t really communicate back and forth with them. That’s the next step.
A couple years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced plans to make vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technologies mandatory equipment — effectively letting cars wirelessly connect to and communicate with each other.
Now it has followed through on that plan. In December 2016, the agency issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would implement rules requiring mandatory adoption of V2V technology on all cars, SUVs and light trucks within five years.
That notice is open for comment until mid-March, after which some version of it, modified to consider the feedback received, would normally be implemented. The fact that the U.S. administration has changed in the interim, however, could mean that such normal expectations may not be realized.
The case for proceeding with the proposal is strong. By “talking” to each other and sharing data such as speed and position at rates of up to10 times per second, vehicles will be able to go well beyond what today’s self-contained systems can accomplish in terms of determining and helping avoid potentially dangerous situations.
“Once deployed, V2V will provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road,” said outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We are carrying the ball as far as we can to realize the potential of transportation technology to save lives. This long-promised V2V rule is the next step in that progression.”
What that “360-degree situational awareness” means is that cars will be able to electronically “see” each other around corners, for example.
“V2V will provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road. We are carrying the ball as far as we can to realize the potential . . . to save lives.” ANTHONY FOXX U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY
According to NHTSA, the technology will be able to alert drivers of the potential for risks such as: Traffic ahead slowing or stopping; Collision with a vehicle ahead; Collision at an intersection; Collision when making a left turn; A vehicle in a driver’s “blind spot”; Oncoming traffic, such as when attempting to pass another vehicle.
The intent is that this information will in some way be communicated to the drivers involved so they can take corrective action to avoid a collision. But that’s as far as it goes. As proposed, V2V connectivity is different and separate from ADAS and autonomous driving technologies in that it only provides information.
It does not in any way exercise any control over the vehicle.
It’s not a stretch, however, to see how that information could be used by such systems to automatically take whatever action is necessary to prevent a collision.
The next step in this technology progression is vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) communication, which would enable vehicles to exchange information with roadway infrastructure such as traffic lights, stop signs and work zones. NHTSA has already announced plans for adoption of V2X technology, which it says would not only enhance safety but improve mobility and reduce congestion.
One of the challenges in implementing these new technologies is concern for privacy.
According to NHTSA, they do not involve the exchange of information linked to an individual, and the rule will require extensive privacy and security controls in any such devices.
Given that significant hurdle still to clear, it may be a while yet before our cars really can talk to each other.