After more than a decade's worth of research, development and investment, the dawn of the connected car appears imminent.
In addition to the mandate for vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed this month, the Department of Transportation is actively developing guidance for vehicle-to-infrastructure communication and testing that technology in areas across the country. The first V2V-enabled vehicle will hit dealerships next year as well, the 2017 Cadillac CTS.
"This rule is something that has been contemplated for more than 12 years," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in announcing the mandate. "From a safety perspective, this is a no-brainer."
But even as the dream of connected cars inches closer, many regulatory and infrastructure challenges remain. Perhaps most significant are concerns that technological development soon will shift away from the radio-based technology underlying NHTSA's rule -- known as dedicated short-range communication -- making the mandate outdated by the time it takes effect.
NHTSA estimates that up to 1,321 lives a year could be saved by V2V-related applications once the mandate is in full effect. Assuming it is adopted in 2019, all new vehicles will be fully equipped with communication technology by 2023.
But critics say the possible seven-year gap before that penetration is achieved could mean the U.S. fleet will be propping up technology that's already on its way out.
"There are serious limitations to [dedicated short-range communication] technology," said Roger Lanctot, an analyst with Strategy Analytics and a vocal proponent of using newer cellular technology, the kind that powers smartphone communication, instead.
The prospect of 5G cellular networks is tantalizing to vehicle connectivity experts. This year, Audi, BMW and Daimler formed an association with telecom firms Qualcomm, Huawei, Ericsson, Intel and Nokia to study the potential of 5G networks for future fleets.