Autonomous vehicles are all over the news, but they're likely years away from being truly relevant to the average person. Meanwhile, ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) are becoming more and more prominent with each passing year. Let's look at how vehicles connect to the world around them and what wireless systems are being used to achieve connectivity.
The Appeal of V2X (Vehicle-to-Everything) Connectivity
"V2X" is the term used to describe communication between vehicles and literally anything else. This encompasses communications to and/or from infrastructure, devices, other vehicles, and more.
Applications of V2X are broad. In current-gen cars, V2X takes such forms as syncing phones to an onboard computer, lane correction assistance, collision warnings, and satellite radio. Future applications could receive information about roadwork, including lane closures and traffic flow, or even notify drivers of free parking spaces in municipal lots.
Examples of V2X capabilities. Image courtesy of Siemens
From ADAS to Autonomous Cars
One of the most obvious applications of V2X connectivity is in autonomous vehicles. Investment in self-driving cars is skyrocketing across several industries, particularly for car companies. An Intel study by Strategy Analytics projects that the self-driving car industry, specifically the resultant "passenger economy", will reach $800 billion in the next 20 years.
Inter-vehicle communication is a key component to a successful future for this complicated concept. However, a future in which self-driving cars dominate the roads isn't a sure one, nor is it clear when it would become reality. In the meantime, V2X communication is finding use in driver-assistance systems.
Fabless semiconductor company, Autotalks, is one of the players in the V2X field showing what that driver assistance looks like in practice. Last week, they announced their B2V ("bike-to-vehicle") system, designed to allow safer travel for motorcyclists. The idea is for a motorcycle to "talk" to the cars around it, informing them of its location, direction, and speed. It can also communicate information such as whether the rider is braking or not.
Representation of a transmission of data between a bike and a vehicle at an intersection. Image courtesy of Autotalks
The system was developed in partnership with Bosch, a juggernaut engineering and electronics corporation, and Ducati, an Italian motorcycle designer and manufacturer. One of the major focuses of the program is to make driving safer for motorcyclists, the most vulnerable motorists on the road. The heads-up notification system allows for better awareness of other vehicles, especially motorcycles, even in inclement weather and other situations when visibility is low.
Eventually, it's probable that these functionalities will inform and direct an onboard computer in an autonomous vehicle rather than a human operator. For now, it's being launched as a way to improve road safety through interfaces in either a car's dash display or speakers in a rider's helmet.
DSRC (Direct Short-Range Communications) vs. Cellular V2X
As with any topic related to connectivity, there's an ongoing conversation regarding wireless protocols. When it comes to V2X, there are a couple of different protocols at play.
The go-to for many of these V2X systems is DSRC (direct short-range communications), operating using the 802.11p wireless standard. This is an amendment to the 802.11 standard that specifies the use of the 5.9GHz frequency band for vehicle ITS (intelligent transportation systems) communications. This allows transmission of data up to 10 times per second.
By contrast, Qualcomm's been working on a cellular connectivity platform for V2X purposes, dubbing it C-V2X.
Qualcomm's breakdown of the two transmission modes available through C-V2X. Image courtesy of Qualcomm
According to Qualcomm, C-V2X allows for about twice the range of DSRC, providing more time for messages to be sent, received, and understood by drivers. C-V2X is a strong contender for two reasons:
- In 2015, the European Parliament mandated that all new cars be equipped with cellular functionality by April of 2018. This is to support the use of eCall technology, which has a vehicle automatically call emergency services if it detects that it's been involved in a serious accident.
- The advent of 5G promises even more effective connectivity.
It's worth mentioning, however, that the Autotalks B2V system couldn't utilize C-V2X as easily because bikes don't tend to have the same display interfaces that cars do, nor are they required to follow the eCall regulation and so lack a cellular modem.
DSRC doesn't require cellular infrastructure. C-V2X offers Qualcomm's LTE Direct for areas without coverage. Back and forth the arguments go. To that end, it's likely that V2X will be a mixture of protocols for the foreseeable future as the competition continues.
No matter how V2X is implemented, you can bet that we'll be seeing more of it. Programs and standards have been under development for over a decade and it appears that V2X is ready to take its next form, taking more control of the operation of vehicles.
Featured image used courtesy of Autotalks.