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The future of auto safety is seat belts, airbags and network technology

Brandon Butler | May 24, 2016
How networking is ushering in a new era of car safety and why a world of connected cars is a safer one.

U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recognized the importance of V2V technology and its need for a highly reliable, low latency, direct communication method. So in 1999 the FCC dedicated 75 megahertz of valuable spectrum radio space for intelligent transportation systems. The 5.850 to 5.925 GHz band (traditional WiFi operates in the 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands) has been carved out for critical life-safety vehicle communication systems and a protocol named Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) has been developed to support V2V and V2I.

The IEEE has created a specific version of WiFi called 802.11p for Wireless Access in Vehicular Environments, or WAVE. It’s based on the 802.11ac standard, but is specifically for DSRC and operates in the 5.9-GHz band. It provides secure wireless connections at high vehicle speeds (up to 120 miles per hour), low latencies and short-ranges (up to about 300 meters) and it works in hazardous weather conditions such as snow, rain and fog.

In 2012 the U.S. DoT funded a $31 million Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment at the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center, which included 2,800 cars, trucks and buses equipped with V2V/DSRC technology traveling on 27 square miles of roadway in Ann Arbor, MI. In 2014 NHTSA that the tests were successful and it was ready to move forward with making rules to mandate this technology.

Steven Bayless, vice president at the Intelligent Transportation Society (ITS) of America, a trade organization that backs vehicle safety initiatives, says the rule-making process could take years to complete. Once rules are in place, manufacturers will begin rolling out the technology.

The lack of rules from NHTSA is one of the reasons DSRC isn’t seen in the market broadly yet today. Auto manufacturers don’t want to invest money installing V2V technology in cars unless they know other manufactures will do so too, so a standard is required. The government will not approve a standard until the auto industry is ready to accept it. Despite the dilemma, some manufactures are moving forward even without the mandate. General Motors’ Cadillac CTS will be the first commercially available vehicle with V2V/DSRC as an option in the 2017 model.

Cellular could answer the safety call

With WiFi-based DSRC technology still being potentially years away from being mandated, some technology companies are developing new ways of supporting V2V communication. Qualcomm is working with auto manufacturers on cellular-based V2V communication, as opposed to the WiFi-enabled V2V that uses spectrum space. Cellular V2V could have a number of advantages over WiFi-based DSRC, says Matt Branda from Qualcomm. Company tests indicate that 5G/LTE cellular V2V could provide larger ranges of communication (up to 450 meters compared to the 300-meter range of DSRC). That could mean additional time for the driver or an autonomous driving system to avoid an accident.


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