Six key challenges loom over car communication technology

Example of vehicle-to-infrastructure application provided through roadside equipment Credit: GAO analysis of Department of Transportation

As car-makers build more tech-savvy autos, their ability to communicate and interact with smart infrastructure to prevent accidents or warn of impending road hazards faces number of challenges that may hinder its deployment.

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Watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office this week said while the Department of Transportation will over the next five years spend $100 million via its Connected Vehicle pilot program that deploys Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies in real-world settings – many challenges with the technologies remain.

Specifically, V2V-equipped cars would emit data on their speed, position, heading, acceleration, size, brake status, and other data (referred to as the “basic safety message”) 10 times per second to the on-board equipment of surrounding vehicles, which would interpret the data and provide warnings to the driver as needed.

According to the GAO the top issues are:

  • Ensuring that possible sharing with other wireless users of the radio-frequency spectrum used by V2I communications will not adversely affect V2I technologies' performance;
  • Addressing states and local agencies' lack of resources to deploy and maintain V2I technologies;
  • Developing technical standards to ensure interoperability;
  • Developing and managing data security and addressing public perceptions related to privacy;
  • Ensuring that drivers respond appropriately to V2I warnings; and
  • Addressing the uncertainties related to potential liability issues posed by V2I.

The spectrum sharing issue is a dicey one. The FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in February 2013 that requested comments on this proposed issue. According to the GAO, DOT officials and 17 out of 21 experts it interviewed considered the proposed spectrum sharing a significant challenge to deploying V2I technologies.

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“[Dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) systems support safety applications that require the immediate transfer of data between entities (vehicle, infrastructure, or other platforms). According to DOT officials, delays in the transfer of such data due to harmful interference from unlicensed devices may jeopardize crash avoidance capabilities. Experts cited similar concerns, with one state official saying that if they deploy applications and they do not work due to harmful interference, potential users may not accept V2I. Seven experts we interviewed agreed that further testing was needed to determine if sharing would result in harmful interference to DSRC. In addition, DOT officials noted that changing to a shared 5.9 GHz band could impact current V2I research, which is based on the assumption that DSRC systems will have reliable access to the 5.9 GHz wireless spectrum.”

The question of interoperability is also a big challenge. “The DOT has noted that consistent, widely applicable standards and protocols are needed to ensure V2I interoperability across devices and applications. However, ensuring interoperability with a standard set of V2I applications in each state may be particularly challenging because unlike V2V, deployment of V2I technologies will remain voluntary. Consequently, states and localities may choose to deploy a variety of different V2I technologies—or no technologies at all—based on what they deem appropriate for their transportation needs. DOT officials we interviewed recognized that a complete national deployment of V2I technologies may never occur, resulting in a patchwork deployment of different applications in localities and states, although these applications will be required to be interoperable with one another,” the GAO stated.

Interoperability may be a killer challenge but so will security.

In a connected vehicle environment, various organizations—federal, state, and local agencies; academic organizations; and private sector firms—potentially may have access to data generated by V2I technologies in order to, for example, manage traffic and conduct research, the GAO noted.

“The DOT and industry have taken steps to develop a security framework for all connected vehicle technologies, including V2I. DOT, along with automakers from CAMP, are testing and developing the Security Credential Management System (SCMS) to ensure the basic safety messages are secure and coming from an authorized device. More than half of the experts we interviewed expressed a variety of concerns about the SCMS system, including whether SCMS can ensure a trusted and secure data exchange and who will ultimately manage the system.”

It should also be noted that According to the National Police Agency officials, no significant security issue has occurred with V2I technologies as of July 2015.

“The full extent of V2I technologies' benefits and costs is unclear because test deployments have been limited thus far; however, DOT has supported initial research into the potential benefits and costs. Experts indicate that V2I technologies could provide safety, mobility, environmental, and operational benefits, for example by: alerting drivers to potential dangers, allowing agencies to monitor and address congestion, and providing driving and route advice” the agency stated.

The GAO added that a number of foreign countries have successfully implemented V2I systems.

“Japan implemented V2I through the deployment of the ITS Spot system. ITS Spot uses roadside equipment to collect and share data with vehicles in order to provide three basic services to drivers: dynamic route guidance, safe driving support, and electronic toll collection. Japan’s extensive V2I network includes roughly 55,000 pieces of V2I equipment on local roads and 1,600 pieces of V2I equipment on its approximately 11,000 kilometers of expressways. Similarly, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria are working to develop a European smart corridor that will provide drivers information on road work and upcoming traffic, among other things.”

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