The US DOT is investing heavily in projects like the South Carolina Connected Vehicle Testbed to realize projections of dramatic safety increases that come with a connected infrastructure combined with autonomous car technology.
In 2015, the National Science Foundation (NSF) noted that by the end of the decade, it is likely that the US Department of Transportation will require all vehicles to be connected vehicles. Increasingly, the focus of connected vehicle technology by governments, researchers, and private industry is the serious safety and efficiency applications of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) wireless communication technology. These applications have the potential to dramatically reduce accidents and improve traffic flow. Leaders in the field foresee these innovations in automotive wireless communications technology laying the groundwork for connectivity within the whole transportation infrastructure to create fully connected cities.
The present motivations for testing and developing these technologies are, however, a little closer to the horizon. As Molex’s Mike Gardner has noted, the efficiency promises of connected vehicle technology offer significant incentives for commercial shipping operations to research and adopt the technology, but an equal source of investment will come from governments interested in the safety and environmental advantages the technology offers. It’s not surprising that the US Department of Transportation is taking V2V and V2I very seriously and is investing heavily in projects that advance vehicle and infrastructural connectedness. According to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “It has been a core mission of the department to support promising new technologies, and through these types of smart investments we are opening the door to a safer and cleaner network and expanding how future generations travel.” Most of the government literature around projects sponsored by the US DOT make reference to the large proportion of auto crashes in which the driver is at fault, and which could theoretically be totally eliminated by pairing a connected infrastructure with some form of vehicle autonomy, like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).
In 2015, the US DOT announced an investment of $42 million for on-the-ground connected vehicle research and testing in New York City, Tampa, and Wyoming, and the department, together with organizations like White House-sponsored US Ignite and the NSF, is sponsoring a number of programs that pair manufacturers of telecom and networking components with researchers to accelerate real-world applications of connected vehicle technology.
Diversifying V2V and V2I
One such program is the South Carolina Connected Vehicle Testbed, a US Ignite project that connects South Carolina’s Clemson University with telecom technology company Cohda Wireless to test V2V and V2I technology on a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 85 in South Carolina. The project taps into Clemson University’s ongoing networking and wireless communications research together with technology like Cohda’s IEEE 802.11-equipped MK 5 onboard and roadside units to provide an environment in which new modes of wireless communication can be tested to lower the cost and increase the reliability of life-or-death services like traffic incident detection.
Since the FCC set aside bandwidth for intelligent transportations systems (ITS) in 1999, the automotive wireless communication technique known as dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) has been the go-to medium for V2V applications, but projects like the Connected Vehicle Testbed aim to diversify the wireless technologies vehicles have at their disposal for communicating with each other. The 802.11p standard specifically designed for automotive applications allows Wi-Fi radios in cars and roadside units to connect for the brief moments they’re within range of each other, making Wi-Fi much more usable for V2V and V2I applications. The Connected Vehicle Testbed combines DSRC technology with Wi-Fi and cellular (LTE) technology to advance the multi-mode connectivity that will eventually be required by many V2V and V2I systems.
“We are deploying a number of roadside units on Clemson’s main campus, and eventually we will deploy roadside units on a stretch of Interstate that passes next to Clemson’s ICAR campus in Greenville,” said Clemson’s Dr. Jim Martin, who is heading the project. “The research objectives are to explore the potential benefits of mixed wireless networks that support DSRC, WiFi, and LTE.”
When information critical to safety is being shared, maintaining connectivity is very important. Supplementing DSRC with Wi-Fi and cellular will help get around problems of data rates, connectivity, and availability inherent in an approach using just DSRC. When these systems are used in conjunction with autonomous features like automatic braking or even fully self-driving cars, connectivity and availability must be ensured if the safety promises of a connected infrastructure are to be realized.
Beginnings of a Connected Infrastructure
The vision of a connected infrastructure, investment by governments in projects like the South Carolina Connected Vehicle Testbed, and impending requirements for vehicle connectedness mean connectors and cables supporting wireless communications technology will eventually be a standard part of the road network, greatly increasing demand from government for these wireless components. Inclusion of Wi-Fi, cellular, and DSRC equipment in every car and along an increasing number of roadways will also require companies to have available small, cheap, and reliable wireless components compatible with and meeting the standards of existing automotive systems. This means they need to be miniaturized, ruggedized, and, like the rest of automotive wiring and components, withstand a decade or more of vibration and dust without failing.
The task is daunting – create components that are highly reliable, support high data throughput (perhaps a gigabyte per second, according to a TE Connectivity white paper), and are everywhere – but the promise of dramatically reducing deaths from traffic accidents has the attention of governments, and the challenge for industry to deliver market-ready components is just around the corner.
Neil Shurtz is a contributor to Connector+Cable Assembly Supplier based in San Francisco. As a freelancer and in his work in public relations for high-tech companies, he has written about technology in the oil and gas, aerospace, and manufacturing industries. Shurtz specializes in framing complex and niche technical topics in a broader social context.