In February 2016, Google’s autonomous car sideswiped a bus. The computer on board the self-driving car identified an obstacle in its path and changed lanes to avoid it. The car’s onboard systems recognized the bus in the adjacent lane but anticipated that it would slow down and allow the car to merge. The accident occurred because the bus maintained its speed. The bus driver did not know that there was an obstacle in the other lane. Vehicle-to-vehicle networking may have prevented the accident. If both vehicles were connected to the same network, the bus’ computer would have received a signal that the car was changing lanes. The transit bus’ software would have slowed the vehicle facilitating a safe merger.
System designers envision a network of connected vehicles that communicate with each other 10 times per second to transmit and receive data, such as speed, braking and GPS position. Onboard computers would process this information, calculate potential risks and alert the drivers. In a self-driving car, the required braking, speed or position changes would be accomplished automatically. The technology could also be integrated into a vehicle-to-infrastructure system that enables autonomous vehicles to anticipate that traffic lights are about to change. The network could communicate with navigation systems so that the car can automatically calculate a more efficient route around an accident scene or congested traffic. While autonomous vehicle software is still affected by weather, complex city driving and poor road conditions, car-to-car networking is on the horizon.
The federal government continues to fund research and field-testing. Along with the NHTSA, major players include General Motors and the University of Michigan as well as Apple, BMW and Qualcomm. German engineering and automotive supply company, Bosch is developing motorcycle-to-vehicle technology. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has already set aside bandwidth for this groundbreaking technology. A vehicle-to-vehicle communication system is a standard feature on the 2017 Cadillac CTS, the first production automobile to incorporate this safety technology. The automaker has also successfully demonstrated a vehicle-to-infrastructure prototype. Joining states like Ohio and Nevada in the development of smart city infrastructure, Michigan has begun adding vehicle-to-infrastructure upgrades along portions of Interstate 75.
While the infrastructure of tomorrow is only available in a few locations, considerable resources are being invested to determine the best communication system for the future. The demand for this system is higher in the U.S., but the market is expected to grow in Europe, Asia and Africa as the number of vehicles increases along with the implementation and acceptance of these innovative technological developments.