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The Automotive Analyst, Summer 2018

On connectivity

What if we’re going about things all wrong? There are all sorts of opinions about how many millions or billions of miles autonomous vehicles need to drive before they’re ready for prime time, but we should never lose sight of the fact that mankind has an uncanny knack for devising new ways to gum up the works. What if it doesn’t matter how many test miles are driven? We may never get to a point where everybody agrees that it’s time to release the AVs into the wild, so maybe programming an AV to be able to handle every scenario under the sun is the wrong goal. Maybe a better way is to focus on building out the Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) infrastructure so that the first vehicle in the line to encounter the thing that’s never been encountered before can tell all of the vehicles behind it to STOP NOW. Could the ability to communicate, whether it’s Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle-to-Network (V2N), Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) or Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P), be the most important advancement in the path to autonomy?

Horns, the original V2V communicator

Do you remember your driving test administrator asking you to demonstrate that you know how to operate the horn? The years have dimmed my memory of that momentous occasion, but the handbook from the state where I took my test says it’s part of the test, so it must be true. That handbook also says the horn is important because it “instantly attracts the attention of other drivers” and you should use it if you think another vehicle or pedestrian doesn’t see you, or if you lose control of your vehicle.[1] But horns, or any other gestures you may be tempted to make in situations of a certain urgency, won’t do you much good in the age of Level 4 or 5 autonomy, so something will need to take its place. That’s where V2X (an umbrella term encompassing V2V, V2N, V2I and V2P) becomes important. Our vehicles will need to communicate with each other on their own and without driver input, and with whatever governing body in the whatever jurisdiction through which you happen to be traveling, and even with individual pedestrians and bicyclists (and scooterists?).

DSRC and C-V2X

There are two forms of communication that enable V2X connectivity and in the absence of a mandate from the federal government, nobody agrees on which is the best, or which will survive. It’s possible both will coexist at least for a time.

Dedicated Short Range Communications, or DSRC, is a short to medium range, two-way wireless standard intended to give the vehicle additional awareness beyond the capabilities of radar and lidar. DSRC’s range is about two thirds of a mile and does not rely on a cellular connection because it was mostly developed before cellular communication was fast enough to be considered useful for safety applications. Consequently, DSRC is most useful in safety applications. The Federal Communications Commission set aside a block of the 5.9ghz spectrum in 1999 for use by automakers, but some people want the FCC to reallocate that DSRC space for 5G since it has gone largely unused.

Which brings us to Cellular-V2X, the telecom industry’s alternative to DSRC. C-V2X uses existing cellular infrastructure, has a range of about a mile, and the low latency and speed of 5G has people ready to consign DSRC to the ash heap. (Since 5G is on everybody’s mind and in everybody’s earnings calls these days, that’s basically what people are talking about when they talk about C-V2X.)

DSRC and C-V2X are both immune to weather conditions and are not limited by line of site; a stark difference to humans and some types of sensors, which are stymied by both bad weather and things like hills. Both have their proponents, but C-V2X seems to have better marketing and PR, even though DSRC is ready now and 5G is still a few years off. C-V2X also gets a boost from a telecom industry that’s more than happy building and monetizing the infrastructure while DSRC would take a massive investment from already cash-strapped governmental entities.

Use Cases

We’ll have to wait a little longer to see which system will win, but there’s no argument that V2X will dramatically forward the cause of vehicle safety. The National Safety Council estimates there were over 40,000 traffic fatalities in the US in 2017 [2] and the Department of Transportation estimates V2V technology could prevent 80% of traffic accidents.[3] Some of the safety features and conveniences V2X could bring to the road are:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Blind spot and lane change warnings
  • Collision warnings
  • Construction zone alerts
  • Electronic parking/toll payment
  • Emergency vehicle warnings
  • Intersection and left turn assistance
  • Lane closure alerts
  • Merge assistance
  • Passing zone warnings
  • Pedestrian warnings
  • Speed limit alerts
  • Stop sign assistance
  • Sudden braking warnings
  • Traffic and travel conditions
  • Traffic jam prediction and route optimization
  • Traffic signal messages
  • Weather alerts
Current or Planned Applications

A sampling of V2X developments include:

  • General Motor began offering V2V technology based on DSRC and GPS on the 2017 Cadillac CTS.[4]
  • Toyota recently announced it would start selling DSRC-equipped cars in the US by 2021, with a goal of deploying the technology over most of it lineup by the mid-2020s.[5]
  • The 5G Automobile Association, Ford, Audi and Qualcomm recently conducted the first cross-brand C-V2X demonstration showing off a variety of safety features.[6]
  • VW is adding DSRC connectivity to its European vehicles in 2019.[7]
  • The same VW announced a year and a half ago it would add 5G connectivity to its planned I.D. line of electric vehicles.[8]
  • Volvo Cars and Volvo Trucks in Norway and Sweden will begin share amongst themselves when the hazard lights are turned on.[9]
A few takeaways and parting thoughts
  • Connected vehicle tech has the potential to dramatically reduce traffic accident and fatality rates.
  • Connected vehicle tech will assist in the adoption of Level 4/5 autonomy.
  • The benefits of connected vehicle tech are not dependent on Level 4/5 autonomy, but autonomy is dependent on connected vehicle tech.
  • The more vehicles are connected, the more the benefits accrue.
  • V2X is aftermarket friendly as devices that gather and share data can easily be added to “unconnected” vehicles.


[1] Pennsylvania Driver’s Manual

[2] 2017 Estimates Show Vehicle Fatalities Topped 40,000 for Second Straight Year

[3] How V2X technology will change how you drive

[4] V2V Safety Technology Now Standard on Cadillac CTS Sedans

[5] Toyota and Lexus to Launch Technology to Connect Vehicles and Infrastructure in the U.S. in 2021

[6] 5GAA, Audi, Ford and Qualcomm Showcase C-V2X Direct Communications Interoperability to Improve Road Safety

[7] Volkswagen Group assumes pioneering role in rapid road safety improvement

[8] VW EVs will debut 5G connectivity services

[9] Volvo Cars and Volvo Trucks share live vehicle data to improve traffic safety


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