There used to be a time when, after a long day at work, you could get in your car and drive home, completely disconnected from the rest of the world. Your car was an isolated island where the only people that could reach you were any passengers riding along. Then came the cell phone and everything changed. Now advanced connectivity is being increasingly built into the car. Within the next decade, consumers are unlikely to be able to buy a new vehicle without multiple connections to the world constantly transmitting data to other vehicles and to the Cloud.
It has now been two decades since General Motors introduced OnStar as the first cellular telematics system, and in the next few months, Cadillac will launch the first car to support vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications into the US market. As we move towards a world where transportation becomes a service through on-demand autonomous mobility, connectivity will be as key an enabling technology as the suite of sensors packed into every vehicle.
At the most fundamental level, automated driving will rely on lidar, cameras, radar, and inertial sensors to provide situational awareness. Unfortunately, however, every one of these sensor types is limited to a line-of-sight view within a few hundred feet. Connectivity adds a whole new layer of information to augment what the sensors can see while enabling more proactive information for a much more robust management of what the vehicle is going to do.
In the realm of vehicle connectivity, there are two primary layers: telematics to enable rich data sharing that is less time-dependent, and real-time vehicle-to-external (V2X) communications.
As cellular connectivity has increased in reliability and speed over the past two decades, so the range of what is possible through telematics has also greatly expanded. Early systems provided remote locking/unlocking of the car and automatic calls to first responders in the event of a crash. Now these systems provide a broad array of services for vehicle owners, including remotely starting their vehicles, monitoring the behaviour of young drivers, and managing EV charging.
With the launch of the Model S in 2012, Tesla significantly raised the bar for telematics system capabilities. Tesla built in an always-on 3G cellular connection in every one of its cars, making it the first vehicle manufacturer to provide over-the-air (OTA) software updates for safety-critical systems. This allows Tesla to provide new and enhanced functionality to customers without bringing the cars into a service facility, much as smartphone manufacturers do with mobile devices.
Perhaps even more importantly, however, Tesla is able to push out software updates to fix bugs and security vulnerabilities without having to conduct a vehicle safety recall. In recent years, recalls have become a major issue for vehicle manufacturers, as they have to rely on customers to actually take their vehicles to a dealer to have software updated.
OTA updates will not be able to address hardware flaws like the one affecting tens of millions of vehicles with Takata airbags. However, in mid-2016, Tesla was able to distribute software updates to its AutoPilot driver-assist system following a fatal crash. Tesla has also used its system to distribute updates for security flaws before any malicious actors exploit them.
As vehicles become both more automated and more connected in the coming decade, the need for telematics and the OTA update capability will become even greater. Navigant Research anticipates sales of nearly 27 million vehicles with high level automation (Level 3 and above) annually by 2025. Every one of these vehicles will need remote update capability to ensure that they remain as secure as possible while delivering optimal performance as this new technology continues to evolve.
Consumers are unlikely to be able to buy a new vehicle without multiple connections to the world constantly transmitting data to other vehicles and to the Cloud
Even before these automated vehicles arrive, manufacturers can leverage the projected 58 million factory-installed telematics systems that will be sold annually by 2025 for new revenue streams. Companies like Ford are already deploying apps that enable drivers to find, reserve, and pay for parking; set up service appointments; and receive location-based discounts on goods and services.
By leveraging the data available from vehicles to connect drivers to businesses, manufacturers can get a cut of the transaction for the leads they generate. Navigant Research estimates that vehicle maintenance and service lead generation could produce more than US$2.6bn in new revenue by 2025, while parking could amount to nearly US$2.9bn.
Usage-based insurance plans have become increasingly common, but they usually require the driver to install a connectivity adapter into the vehicle’s on-board-diagnostics port (OBD-II) to collect data. Telemetry data collected by vehicle manufacturers could be shared directly with insurers to provide more granular information in return for discounts on the premiums paid by customers.
The other half of the connected vehicle platform is V2X communications. While this technology has been in development for more than a decade, it is only now starting to be deployed in production. V2X is designed to provide real-time peer-to-peer communications between vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and infrastructure.
Unlike telematics, which can transmit rich data that is less time-sensitive, V2X is designed to transmit short, well-defined messages with low latency. For example, V2V safety messages can include content such as the vehicle detecting a slippery surface when the ABS or traction control activates or a vehicle approaching a blind intersection. Similar messages broadcast from a pedestrian’s phone can alert drivers that they are about to step into the street.
There are two main technologies vying for V2X deployment: dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) and 5G cellular. DSRC is a variant of Wi-Fi that is defined by the 802.11p protocol and has been actively developed in North America and elsewhere. In late 2015, Toyota was the first OEM to deploy DSRC for V2V communications in several Japanese market premium models.
5G cellular is being developed to provide higher speeds and lower latencies than current 3G and 4G systems, but the standards are not yet final and widespread network deployment is still several years off
Due to limited availability to date, Toyota has focused on using the DSRC communications to provide cooperative adaptive cruise control capability – enabling following vehicles to be alerted when the leader is about to slow down so the group can function as one, providing for smoother overall control and safer operation. This sort of ‘intent signalling’ will be a key factor in the future automated vehicle ecosystem so that a vehicle has proactive information before it does something that can be detected by sensors. V2V technology will also be an enabler of safe vehicle platooning, which enables vehicles to follow each other in closer proximity on highways. Platooning allows for more efficient use of the available road infrastructure and leads to fuel savings, especially for large trucks.
In the US market, Cadillac will be the first brand to introduce DSRC V2V communications in the spring of 2017. A proposed regulation that would have mandated V2V on new vehicles in the US starting in 2020 was published in late 2016; however, an executive order by the new president that requires two regulations to be repealed for every new rule means this regulation is unlikely to be enacted in the near future.
While DSRC is now well-defined and ready for mass deployment, a number of companies are pushing for the use of next-generation cellular technologies instead. 5G cellular is being developed to provide much higher speeds and lower latencies than current 3G and 4G systems, but the standards are not yet final and widespread network deployment is still several years off. One other major difference with new cellular technologies is the ability for individual network nodes – in this case, vehicles – to communicate directly without needing to go through a network backbone, which would eliminate much of the delay in sending messages.
Navigant Research expects that more than 84 million vehicles will be sold annually with V2X capability utilising one or both of these technologies.
Connecting the automated vehicle
Regardless of the specific communications technology utilised, V2X will be needed to extend the situational awareness of automated vehicles beyond immediate line of sight, provide preemptive information about road conditions that cannot be detected by the sensor suite, and signal intent. At its core, an automated vehicle must be able to navigate without connectivity – just as a human must be able to move around without using a phone. However, in order to maximise the benefits of automation, the communication layer needs to be present.
Similarly, telematics services will continue to extend beyond what we have today to provide bidirectional updates for navigation and enable the summoning of automated vehicles, among many other capabilities.
Creating up-to-date, high definition maps of the world in which automated vehicles operate will require collecting and aggregating sensor data from vehicles in the field. Systems such as Mobileye’s Road Experience Management (REM) will collect data about static objects and reconfigured roads that can then be shared back to the vehicle community. When GPS is unreliable – as it frequently is in urban areas – or roads are not clearly visible, such as when covered by snow, this information about known object positions can be used to triangulate and determine precise vehicle location.
In coming decades, those commuting by car will no longer be isolated from the world outside, but they should be safer and have better access to mobility, thanks to connectivity.