There will inevitably be a time when vehicles possessing partial if not full autonomous capabilities will share the road with those that do not, including other road-users such as bikes and scooters. In amongst all these will remain pedestrians, some with bags of heavy shopping, others with pushchairs and strollers, and some on their feet, pushing their bikes: in short, a computer vision developer’s nightmare.
Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity will be key not just in enabling autonomous vehicles (AV) and unlocking their safety benefits, but in protecting all those mentioned above, and creating a smarter mobility ecosystem that benefits everyone regardless of whether they are connected. That’s according to Andras Varadi, Research Director at Commsignia, a Santa Clara-based Tier 2 software developer which has already put V2X to work: in Las Vegas, over 130 of its roadside units help power an autonomous Navya shuttle. These units allow the vehicles to safely navigate intersections and remain alert to other vehicles on the road.
“Today we see connectivity in vehicles being scaled up,” says Varadi, and recent activity from VW underlines this. The Golf 8, the latest iteration of the world’s largest automaker’s best selling car, can receive notifications from traffic infrastructure, as well as other vehicles up to 800 metres away. Meanwhile China, the world’s largest vehicle market, has made clear that connectivity forms a key part of its strategy moving forward, alongside electrification and autonomy. But how exactly will V2X deliver on its potential, and what are some of the challenges?
A common, co-operative language
One difficulty which Commsignia wants to help automakers overcome is the question of interoperability. How can the many sensor outputs and perceptions gathered not just by numerous different vehicle brands, but by roadside devices and fusions of the two be translated into something common, useful to all devices? Data might come from a camera, radar, or any other number of sources, says Varadi, and the speed at which information is required by moving vehicles makes for rapid work.
“The data needs to be small, fast, and there’s a tonne of it to fuse on the receiving side which could be useful for nearby vehicles,” he says. “The goal is to have this technology available as soon as possible, and also to ensure that it can all be trusted.” Commsignia is actively working with the European Committee for Standardisation (ETSI) in tackling this challenge. Collective Perception Message (CPM) technology, currently being designed at ETSI, will be able to give vehicles information they cannot realistically source from anywhere else. Varadi gives the example of an animal running into the road, detected by radar on one vehicle and shared to all surrounding connected systems in milliseconds.
“CPM can track essentially anything related to safety, including pedestrians, cars and trucks,” he says. Critically, this could help the industry during a transition period in which some vehicles boast connected or autonomous capabilities, and others do not. “The penetration required for a near-to-complete mapping of an area is quite low,” says Varadi, “and it’s a good way of digitalising every and any participant among the flow of traffic.” Connected vehicles that understand what is going on around them, he adds, improve the safety of everyone and everything surrounding it.
Low latency communication opens up so many possibilities: vehicles can discuss which lane they will use, at which time to let each other through, how to navigate normally crowded intersections, and so on
Varadi believes it is important for automakers to think of V2X as not simply another sensor, but also as a way of relaying communications and data between vehicles. Moving forward, vehicles will be able to ‘discuss’ things together, such as where they are going to be. Traffic flows can be optimised accordingly, and similar ideas could be used in platooning, which will allow trucks to travel in close proximity to each other.
The competitive edge
Of course, what automakers choose to do with this data will lie in their hands: some, for example, may have concerns around the trustworthiness of the data. The benefits on offer, however, could prove a hugely important differentiator for brands, and V2X will lend a competitive edge to those automakers who adopt early.
“It comes down to how much you trust the data, and how much you allow your car to depend on it,” says Varadi. “For example, if the V2X tells you about a dangerous situation, the car has to decide how much it can rely on that data and whether it needs to validate that information, perhaps by cross-checking it against sensors.”
With automakers offering increasingly sophisticated technologies, such as advanced cruise control, they are unlikely to turn down extra layers of safety such as that offered by V2X and CPM. Technologies that allow vehicles to work co-operatively could be a key piece in the puzzle for eyes-off, hands-off driving. In addition, Varadi points out, with NCAPs now turning attention to connectivity, V2X compatibility is likely to become important for those seeking all important high star ratings on models.
Inter-brand trust will also be important. “There needs to be an agreement across all stakeholders, from automakers to component suppliers,” says Varadi, “which establishes the services needed, or at the least who will be operating connected cars. In the end, it is a co-operative system we’re discussing, which is only as strong as its weakest link.”
V2X being a relatively new technology, one of the major tasks at hand for suppliers such as Commsignia will be to educate the industry on its potential, addressing applications across both the passenger vehicle segment and the commercial vehicle segment. In addition, the role of city transport authorities, infrastructure providers and road operators will be pivotal. Interest on this side of the equation is high, says Varadi: not only are the safety benefits manifold, but they could optimise traffic flows, easing congestion and reducing emissions through improved braking and acceleration.
“All this requires a very complex orchestration of vehicles, possible through V2X,” he concludes. “Low latency communication opens up so many possibilities: vehicles can discuss which lane they will use, at which time to let each other through, how to navigate normally crowded intersections, and so on.” If ever we are to realise the smart city future so frequently promised, it will surely be dependent on such capabilities.