Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, is concerned that a split approach — some automakers choosing DSRC and others choosing cellular — will undermine connected vehicles' life- saving potential.
"The specific technology is somewhat immaterial," he said. "As the head of an association, I'm not here to make a market decision. But as a former DOT director and someone fixated on the idea of almost 40,000 people dying on our roadways, I want to do everything we can to get vehicles talking to each other. It is something that will help save lives."
Researchers say up to 8.1 million car crashes and 44,000 deaths could be prevented if the federal government would issue a mandate on connected-vehicle technology rather than wait even three years, according to an analysis conducted by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, which advocates a DSRC approach.
In the Las Vegas parking lot, it was easy to see the high-stakes potential of V2X communications. Engineers from Ford, Audi, Ducati and Qualcomm set up a four-way stop intersection. Vehicles from Audi and Ford would head toward the intersection as a Ducati motorcycle prepared to speed through a stop sign and into the path of the vehicles. But less than a second before a seemingly imminent collision, a warning appeared on the dashboards of the vehicles, alerting them to the danger.
Eventually, such information could provide additional operational instructions to autonomous vehicles, which are currently restricted to the line-of-sight road-environment observations made by their on-board sensors. Though it's in a nascent stage, AVs could use V2X technology to essentially see around corners and learn about hazards ahead on the road.
Though some suppliers, such as Continental, are building modules that could potentially handle both cellular and DSRC messages, Little and others are skeptical that will solve the format problem.
"When you have that cross-talk, you undermine the safety function," he said. "Remember, this is a safety function, and that's like two people sitting in a car, and one is yelling in English and the other is yelling in French. … I think C-V2X is a no-brainer, and with Ford's announcement, I think others will start to flip. They've had enough of this round robin."
While the tussle over the particular technology plays out, the bigger question remains. In the absence of a government mandate, will enough motorists receive V2X on their cars as standard condition, or will enough purchase it as part of an optional technology package, to gain the critical mass required to make this decades-long push worthwhile?
Hope that autonomous vehicles can someday dramatically reduce traffic crashes was in plentiful supply at CES. But the demonstration in the parking lot served as a reminder that other technologies hold similar potential.
"It's great that if what gets people excited is this idea of self-driving cars, but I'm much more excited knowing there are technologies being deployed right now that can identify my wife and kids in a crosswalk," Bhatt said. "That information can be relayed to a car, so that the car knows they're there even if a distracted driver doesn't."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story, which also appeared on Page 64 of the Feb. 4 edition, incorrectly identified Shailen Bhatt. He is president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.