V2X is close. Here’s what still needs to happen

Accenture's Juergen Reers, Stephen Zoegall and Pierre-Olivier Desmurs outline the remaining challenges in rolling out V2X communications

For years, automakers, transit operators and agencies—as well as city planners—have been talking about the potential of vehicle-to-everything connectivity (V2X) to revolutionise mobility experiences, particularly in urban areas. And as the underlying technology improves, and V2X gets ever closer to becoming a practical reality, all of us stand to benefit from safer, greener streets, faster, more efficient journeys and better in-car experiences.

Special report: Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication

However, there is still a lot of work to be done if V2X is to ever come to fruition. In particular, there are outstanding challenges in standardising communication technologies, processing the data generated, meeting regulatory requirements, and ensuring its security. Above all, there is a pressing need for the whole mobility ecosystem to start working in a much more coordinated way.

Smarter cities, better journeys

First, let us remind ourselves why V2X is such a big deal for automakers, public transport providers, daily commuters, and city planners. At the heart of this is the concept of integrated mobility: the ability to join up different modes of transport so the traveller experience is truly seamless, even across interchanges.

Imagine, for example, booking a ride-share to get from your home to a station, walking straight onto the train into the city, then picking up an electric bicycle at the other end to get you to the office. The transition between each step is handled in an entirely integrated and seamless way by the different providers involved.

Ford C-V2X trial tests at Shanghai's National Intelligent Vehicle Pilot Zone
Shanghai’s National Intelligent Vehicle Pilot Zone, where automakers including Ford have tested C-V2X technology

This kind of simple, streamlined, low-stress urban transport integration has been talked about for years. But it was always hindered by the practical difficulties of linking up all the different components involved—people, vehicles, infrastructure—in real time. The most foundational aspect of V2X-services is the car itself, which is undergoing multiple transformation.

On the one hand, steps are being taken by industry players to improve the in-car experience. For example, Accenture’s Industry X team, together with French automotive supplier Faurecia, contributed to the development of key components of the ‘cockpit of the future’. The car cockpit incorporates multiple features such as touch displays, state-of-the-art applications and a voice assistant that becomes the new user interface in the car to control in-vehicle entertainment and other functions.

On the other hand there is V2X, which will seek to improve the journey itself. V2X offers fast vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-person (V2P), and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) connectivity. Think of millions of vehicles, people, and items of urban transport infrastructure all constantly communicating with each other, ensuring seamless interchanges, rerouting journeys away from congestion, dynamically updating traffic controls, allocating parking more efficiently, and so on.

Then consider the impact on traffic fatalities. By enabling a continuous stream of positional, speed and directional data from each vehicle, V2X could be truly transformative for road safety. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates V2V could reduce traffic accidents by 13% resulting in over 400,000 fewer crashes each year.

There are potentially significant environmental benefits too. Integrated mobility is a critical step in getting more people to consider greener transport choices. Right now, the fragmented nature of most alternative mobility options means driving remains an ever-present temptation. But if a multi-modal journey were just as straightforward and easy as using the car, human behaviour would be sure to adapt, especially given the cost benefits.

These challenges are not insurmountable, but they all require coordinated action right across the mobility value chain. This is not just within the automotive industry: public transport authorities and city and national governments must be involved too

Then there is the autonomous future. Although autonomous vehicles (AVs) and V2X are not necessarily dependent on each other, in practice AVs are likely to rely heavily on V2X features. That’s especially true when it comes to integrating AVs with smart city infrastructure, such as grid charging, and giving pedestrians confidence in their safety.

The alignment challenge

All this raises a key question. If V2X is such an important and beneficial step forward, what’s holding it back? The truth is, there is still a large number of moving parts to be aligned, including regulatory clarity, if we are to get V2X past the tipping point and into widespread adoption. Let us consider some of the most pressing challenges.

First, there is the alignment challenge. The first thing that needs to happen is for all the principal players—automotive manufacturers, public transport providers, municipalities, and transport authorities—to work together in a much more coordinated way. The sheer complexity of making V2X and integrated mobility work at scale means this is essential. And by collaborating rather than competing, operators and authorities can spread the burden of the costly infrastructure investments that may be necessary.

The need for ecosystem convergence is widely acknowledged. Accenture research found that a huge 92% of public transport leaders think they need to collaborate better with new mobility service providers, as laid out in the Accenture report ‘Responsible transit in public transportation’. These efforts will be worth it: the market for mobility services, as a part of the wider V2X universe, has grown to more than US$140bn over the last decade, and this number will more than triple by 2030.

The technology challenge

One of the biggest open questions is the communication standards that will underpin V2X. Right now, this is unresolved, with two competing technologies vying for dominance. The first, Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC), uses decentralised ad-hoc Wi-Fi to enable V2V communication. The second is cellular based, using 4G (and now 5G) to communicate with a centralised infrastructure. This second option is being driven particularly strongly by the Chinese market, where it’s known as C-V2X.

Which will become the standard? The decentralised DSRC is generally more robust and less expensive, while the 5G option offers greater data transfer potential (which may ultimately prove decisive as AV adoption increases). However, it’s too early to say which will prevail. And while everyone wants to avoid a prolonged VHS/Betamax style battle, the reality is there are geopolitical forces at play and the industry will probably have to live with both technologies for the time being.

The Big Data challenge

Another obstacle to wider V2X adoption is the challenge of processing and making sense of the huge volumes of data generated. Some automakers have suggested that a single vehicle can create up to 40 terabytes of data in just one day. That is a truly vast amount—the equivalent of 250 million pages of text printed both sides.

Already, we see AI has a growing role across the automotive value chain. From production planning to design and development, and from logistics to sales, nearly every aspect of car manufacturing and distribution is set to be enhanced by AI. The next step is to extend this to Big Data processing of V2X communications

Multiply that by the millions of cars on the roads today, and the potentially many more sensors that will eventually be embedded in smart city infrastructure, and you get a sense of the scale of what is involved. Ultimately this will be beyond human capabilities to resolve, and so artificial intelligence (AI) data processing solutions will almost certainly be required.

Already, we see AI has a growing role across the automotive value chain. From production planning to design and development, and from logistics to sales, nearly every aspect of car manufacturing and distribution is set to be enhanced by AI. The next step is to extend this to Big Data processing of V2X communications.

The security challenge

When vehicles are continuously communicating with each other and with the cloud, data security becomes a much bigger issue. It only takes a moment’s thought to realise that if a cyber security adversary can intercept communications and take control of aspects of a vehicle (or, say, a set of traffic lights), the potential for remote tampering, theft, data breaches—and far worse—is much greater.

One solution is to consider a decentralised multiparty system, such as blockchain or a distributed ledger. These solutions are inherently more secure and can help define a common standard for data sharing and security across manufacturers, suppliers, and other relevant parties. In fact, the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative (MOBI), of which Accenture is a member, is already working towards a set of standards, not only for connected cars but also the surrounding ecosystem.

Getting over the line

These challenges are not insurmountable, but they all require coordinated action right across the mobility value chain. This is not just within the automotive industry: public transport authorities and city and national governments must be involved too. One concrete example of realised convergence can be seen in Invest Ottawa, lead economic development agency for Canada’s Capital, which is working together with the City of Ottawa, the Government of Ontario, Accenture and a raft of strategic private sector partners to launch Area X.O. The first fully integrated V2X facility of its kind in North America, it is is equipped with one of the most advanced communications infrastructures in the world, bringing together GPS (RTK), DSRC, 4G / LTE, WiFi, LoRa, and authentic pre-commercial 5G (including mmWave) from Nokia and Ericsson, as well as satellite communications systems. Moreover, it is anchored in a global tech hub with the highest concentration of tech talent per capita in the continent (CBRE Scoring Tech Talent 2020).

If we want to make sure our cities, roads, stations, public transport, and driving experiences are safer, greener, and more seamlessly connected, it is vital that all these parties come together to drive the necessary changes forward. The technology is ready. Let us not miss this opportunity to make sure V2X delivers on its promise.

Juergen Reers, Stephen Zoegall, and Pierre-Olivier Desmurs are part of Accenture’s leadership. Reers leads the company’s global Mobility X practice, Zoegall is Accenture’s global cities, transport & infrastructure industry lead, while Desmurs is leading the firm’s global public transit business.

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