V2X Communication, Not Automation, to Usher in Next Road-Safety Revolution
Connectivity is an integral aspect of the autonomous future, but for motorcyclists and other vulnerable road users, V2X may prove more valuable.
Development of autonomous vehicles (AV) is moving inexorably forward, driven by staggering industry investment. It’s understood that connectivity, often encapsulated as vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication, will play a crucial role in the adoption timeline and effectiveness of automated transportation. With much of the necessary V2X technology already available, regulatory and infrastructure challenges may be the only real obstacles to a swift rollout of an effective V2X network. Deployment of V2X capabilities could be a boon to vulnerable road users (VRUs) such as motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians.
It’s connectivity, not autonomy, that will alert a vehicle that traffic ahead has stopped, or that a motorcycle hidden behind buildings is approaching an intersection. As even the most ardent AV supporters acknowledge wide-adoption timelines are slipping deep into the decade, most of the required V2X technology already is available. Communication standards – cellular-based CV2X vs. Wi-Fi-based DSRC (dedicated short-range communications) – and public-spectrum bandwidth issues have yet to be sorted, and an installed vehicle and infrastructure V2X base will take years to implement. But in terms of the tech, solutions exist.
ADAS and AV sensor suites help vehicles navigate their immediate environments in real-time, but it’s the V2X network that will bring the omniscient view of road ahead. Suppliers, along with automotive and motorcycle OEMs, have been moving en masse for some time to create what is effectively an automated traffic-alert system. VW Group’s Audi, Ford and Ducati showed off their joint-development efforts in V2X technology with Qualcomm at CES 2019, using cellular-based technology to demonstrate a cooperative intersection use case in a non-line-of-sight (NLOS) scenario involving a Ducati Multistrada 1260.
Qualcomm also is part of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) that began demonstrating live V2X functionality in July, 2018 with other 5GAA members including BMW, Ford and the PSA Group, showcasing direct cellular V2X communication between passenger vehicles, motorcycles and roadside infrastructure. Like BMW, and as a manufacturer of both cars and motorcycles, Honda is working with a number of groups, including the Europe-focused Connected Motorcycle Consortium (CMC), and its U.S. equivalent, the Safer Motorcycling Research Consortium (SMRC). Both groups now encompass nearly every major motorcycle OEM.
“We are very fortunate that the motorcycle team and the car divisions are working very closely. We exchange information on a weekly basis on both technical and regulatory issues,” explained Sue Bai, chief engineer in the Automobile Technology Research division of Honda R&D Americas. “The CMC was established in 2015 during the ITS World Congress, but I have been working with the CMC Honda team for more than 10 years.” Like any new technology, particularly on motorcycles, cost is key to proliferation. An example is ABS, which after decades in the market is only now making its way onto entry-level motorcycles that often are purchased by the most inexperienced riders.
“The motorcycle is more cost-conscious compared to a vehicle implementation, and it has smaller spacing for equipping antenna and hardware on it,” Bai said. “The rider's body blocks some of the signals to achieve 360-degree transmission. Our recommendation is to have two antennas, one in front, one at the back. It does have implication to the cost, but to ensure the safest implementation, that may be needed.” Motorcycles also require all components be waterproofed, and Honda is deploying two motorcycles in the Ohio Route 33 Smart Mobility Corridor program to collect data and vet component sealing and robustness.
Bosch, a major industry supplier and innovator in the motorcycle safety space, also has spent more than a decade on connectivity projects. “Bosch is heavily invested in the V2X area,” said Suman Yelati, Bosch’s Plymouth, Michigan-based product manager of the car multimedia team in North America for V2X and connectivity product. “From 2008 we have been working in pre-standardization areas, and also in standardization and various committees related to V2X public funded projects and collaborator projects with OEMs.”
According to Yelati, V2X is complimentary to the autonomous ecosystem, providing additional data to radar- and camera-based inputs to improve overall decision making. “For example,” Yelati said, “V2X can help see non-visible traffic. While radar, lidar and cameras are all able to analyze visual input, V2X messages go to non-line-of-sight areas. The latency is also less compared to camera processing, so if there's an emergency braking 10 vehicles ahead of me, that gets communicated to me faster via V2X message than a camera processing all this information.”
Roadblocks to connectivity
With standards already in place, including SAE’s 2016 J2735 , technological solutions available and multiple suppliers and OEMs ready to deploy, the remaining barriers in the U.S. and other markets are more regulatory and infrastructure-based. Whether the system ultimately deployed in the U.S. is based on the Wi-Fi-esque DSRC or cellular-based CV2X, most OEMs and suppliers appear ready to support either standard.
“As a Tier 1, we are technology neutral,” Bosch’s Yelati said. “So DSRC or CV2X, we are ready with the systems to provide the OEMs, whichever it is.” Honda’s Bai noted that the FCC’s announcement in 2019 that it might take back spectrum previously set aside for V2X is the more pressing issue than CV2X vs. DSRC. “As long as it's validated. If it's stable and robust, let's move on,” Bai said. “I think it's more important to save the spectrum first and spend less time on debating which technology is better.”
“Politically and technically, the most urgent issue here right now is the 5.9 GHz spectrum protection,” Bai said. “I really think now is the time for the industry to unite and work together to protect the spectrum, and not arguing which technology is better. If we don't have a spectrum to transmit, there's really no V2X future. The standards are all set, published and ready to be used, and there are pilot deployments that are using these standards already, and that's not just motorcycle.”
The FCC’s proposed reduction in allocated V2X spectrum from 75 to 30 Mhz could reduce the number of features available via the system and also reduce effectiveness and capacity. “A lot of applications will not be possible to be implemented in that 30 MHz bandwidth,” Yelati said, “because complex applications, which involve multiple channels of communication, are completely effected by this reduction.”
“The result of such rulemaking, as they’ve perceived, would have a detrimental impact to the V2X technology deployment,” Bai noted. “If the FCC allocates most of a large portion of the spectrum to someone else, then all the V2X safety communication would be jamming into no more than two usable channels, considering the Wi-Fi interference from the left and right.” Bai referred to an analogy that Toyota’s John Kenney, director of Toyota InfoTech Labs, made at January’s SAE Government/Industry conference, that this would be tantamount to sanctioning rock concerts on both sides of a hospital zone.
Engaging the infrastructure
Once infrastructure and bandwidth issues are settled, there remains the issue of the installation base, the deployment of which will take time. V2X functionality for vehicles such as motorcycles is likely to progress in stages, from simple beacons to HMI alerts, to more active countermeasures as ADAS tech becomes available. Getting more VRUs into the V2X network, particularly around intersections, will be key to its effectiveness. Continental is working to make the most dangerous portion of road networks safer by virtually integrating all intersection users into the V2X network.
“If the penetration rate is low, the effectiveness of the system is somewhat limited. So we feel that there's a real potential to add safe sensors into an intersection, where those sensors can view all road participants in the intersection, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, automobiles, trucks, etc.,” explained Kent Young, business development manager at Continental for the passive safety and sensorics unit. “Then we would be able to send out basic safety messages on behalf of all the road users, whether they have V2X or not.”
Continental’s system would create virtual V2X participants at intersections. “With the technology that we can implement in the infrastructure, we can effectively make it as if every single vehicle, every single road user, pedestrian, VRU, motorcycle, bicyclist, in effect would be sending out V2X messages as if it was a 100% penetration rate,” Young said, noting it will also improve the performance of AVs operating near the intersection – when AVs do enter the market.
“We would send out these V2X messages and any vehicle equipped with V2X would get this wealth of information about what's going on in the intersection,” Young said. Additional non-V2X safety benefits include adjusting signal timing to account for pedestrians in the intersection. “We're not recognizing people themselves, so there's no confidentiality thing here, but we're increasing the safety by improving the effectiveness of the technology.”
“Continental has been working on V2X for many years, back when it was just in the research phases both in North America and in Europe, and we are in active development with several customers regarding V2X,” Young said of their progress with OEM clients. Continental is taking its same high-volume capabilities in V2X, radars and cameras, and implementing those on the infrastructure program. With three test-site intersections already operating, Young said he expected this technology to be in use within the next five years, working directly with cities and municipalities.
Privacy and tech over-reliance
For VRUs such as motorcyclists, V2X could have profound safety benefits, but data privacy and ownership is a thorny issue amongst the notoriously independent demographic. “Motorcyclists aren’t alone in wanting control over the data our vehicles produce with connected vehicle technology,” said Michael Sayre, the American Motorcyclist Association’s (AMA) recently appointed director of government relations. “Motorcyclists and motorcycle manufacturers will need to be engaged in the development to ensure that our data is protected, whether that is data generated by our own connected motorcycle or that which is generated by connected vehicles around us.”
“If this technology was nearly perfect, we could potentially say goodbye to the ‘Sorry I didn’t see the motorcyclist’ type of crash, which would be a huge improvement,” Sayre said. “But multi-vehicle crashes typically represent only half of motorcycle crashes. The rest are single-vehicle crashes and have a wide range of causes, some of which can be addressed by technology such as antilock brakes and stability control.”
One potential downside, Sayre noted, is the driving public becoming over-reliant on the technology, which has been a concern with current automotive ADAS technology. “The scenario in which a majority of traffic is connected, while only a small number of motorcycles are,” he said, “could lead motorcyclists to become even less visible to drivers who are over-reliant on their vehicles to warn them about other vehicles on the road.”
According to Bai at Honda, the most crucial aspect at the moment is to settle the regulatory landscape and begin deploying the technology to start saving lives. “I got a very positive response from NHTSA, and they recently said in public that they are seriously considering NCAP-ing the V2X technology, which is a major step forward,” she said. “Other major OEMs, I think a lot of them are similar in Honda's position, of technically, we're ready.”