A Short Inventory of Currently Available Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Technology
The imminent widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles would be greatly accelerated if roadside infrastructure was communicating information to vehicles. If a bridge could alert drivers that it was icy, or a crosswalk could broadcast the presence of pedestrians, or a traffic light could warn that green was ending, and there were cars that could understand these signals, those passengers would be safer. Recent accidents by autonomous vehicles could have been averted if a wide turning bus had relayed its intentions or a truck crossing a highway would have sent warning signals to the cross traffic.
Autonomous vehicles are relying too much on one sense right now: sight. When other vehicles and the roads, signs, and bridges start volunteering information then the car will need to rely less on cameras and radar. Even now, with cars we can afford (barely) there are V2I roads we can drive on— but not many.
The US Department of Transportation recommends using the Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) standard for V2I information, and car manufacturers and transportation departments are slowly getting on board. The Audi A4 ($40,000) and Q7 ($50,000), and the Cadillac CTS ($50,000), are the first cars widely sold that are equipped to understand traffic light information. VW is expected to join in 2019, and pretty much every other car manufacturer is already testing some V2X safety feature.
Autonomous vehicle test beds are popping up around the world. There’s 120 km of road in Michigan with road condition sensors and congestion data, several highways in Virginia, and three main roads in Edmonton, Alberta.
Most of the test beds use vehicles with specialized sensors and private handshakes, so they are not truly available to the average driver. But right now you can drive an Audi C4 through 1000 intersections in Las Vegas and an in-dash timer will count down the seconds until the light turns green. It’s not quite the V2X revolution, but it’s a solid start. This time last year there was nothing. This time next year there should be dozens.
Car manufacturers should jump on DSRC because driver safety information is a great reason to upgrade, and these sensors and displays are easier to deploy than full autonomous vehicles. And cities will lurch into this technology in herds as they replace en masse their ancient traffic control devices. A third part of this equation is how does the car convey this information to the driver? From alert beeps to warning lights to augmented reality in-windshield displays, it’s all coming to a car near you.
IBI has a working group that meets regularly to discuss C/AV projects, research, and innovation. Our consultants work with municipalities and transportation agencies to guide and forecast transportation requirements. This C/AV report covers this material in greater detail.