For Vehicle Safety Communications, Ford Chooses Cellular Over DSRC

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LAS VEGAS — Cellular-based safety messaging that warns cars before accidents happen is already good enough — and it will only get better. That’s the message from Ford, which this week announced at CES 2019 it will use the C-V2X, or cellular-vehicle-to-everything, protocol as the way for cars to signal other cars (V2C), as well as the infrastructure (V2I) and even pedestrians with next-gen smartphones (maybe call it V2Jaywalker).

Other automakers are either taking a wait-and-see approach or supporting an earlier proposal for a standalone in-car comms radio via the dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) protocol. Both C-V2X and DSRC fall under the umbrella category of vehicle-to-everything communications devices.

Ford graphic shows how cars and traffic lights interact with each other and the traffic C-V2X (yellow car, pickup truck) while the red car uses legacy technology (driver’s eyeballs) to track the traffic light.

What makes C-V2X interesting is that the technology, still not on the road except in test cars, doesn’t need to pass its signal through the cellular network when talking to nearby devices. C-V2X can communicate vehicle-to-vehicle or to vehicle-to-nearby infrastructure devices such as traffic lights, stops, or road construction signs without the potential latency (delay) of working its way through the cellular phone structure. That was the big rap on C-V2X in the past: too slow to be safe, some feared.

Another advantage if the industry goes with C-V2X module is that you don’t need two devices in the car, which might be the case early on if the telematics packaging can’t also fit the DSRC radio chip. Automakers believe that by the early 2020s, the majority of cars will be equipped with telematics systems such as GM’s OnStar or Ford’s Sync Connect because buyers want Wi-Fi in the car, video streaming, and half-dozen or more Wi-Fi device connections.

Ford’s Plan: C-V2X Can Roll Out With 5G Cellular

Ford’s plan was laid out in a Monday blog post by Don Butler, Ford’s executive director for the connected vehicle platform. Butler said in part:

C-V2X is a wireless communication technology that can “talk” to and “listen” for similarly equipped vehicles, people and traffic management infrastructure such as traffic lights to relay important information and help make city mobility safer and less congested. Planned alongside the rapidly building 5G cellular network, C-V2X enables direct communication between the connected devices, meaning a signal doesn’t need to first travel to a cellular tower, allowing vehicles to quickly send and receive information. Ultimately, it lets drivers know what’s ahead of them even before they have to encounter it. …

With plans to roll out 5G cellular networks underway, C-V2X can complement the sensors of self-driving cars. While these vehicles will be fully capable of operating without C-V2X, the technology could add to its comprehensive view from the LiDAR, radar and camera sensors. For instance, if emergency vehicles were equipped with C-V2X transmitters, they could notify self-driving vehicles that may be on their route so the vehicles pull over or reroute in plenty of time. Self-driving vehicles could even get real-time updates on road conditions that affect their routes.

Many of the points Butler laid out in favor of C-V2X are also points in favor of any form of vehicle to vehicle communication, whether it’s cellular C-V2X or separate radio DSRC.

Intel’s onboard telematics module has a C-V2X chip (upper right). But it could be modified to support DSRC signally (as well as cellular telematics.

Where Other Automakers, Governments Stand

Toyota has been a supporter of DSRC with the technology embedded in some home-market vehicles about three years ago. Last spring Toyota announced plans to put DSRC in its lineup starting in 2021. GM put DSRC in its Cadillac CT6 along with its Super Cruise Level 3 self-driving technology; DSRC let the CT6s talk to other cars with DSRC such as … other CT6s, mostly. Now GM is taking a look at C-V2X.

Nissan, which is moving ahead with its broad theme of Intelligent Mobility, will continue to study the pros and cons of C-V2X and DSRC, according to Toshiro Muramatsu, deputy general manager of Nissan’s telematics engineering group. Muramatsu says Nissan is prepared to deliver different solutions for different parts of the world, depending on local demand.

Harman’s cellular telematics and V2X module.

Japan, Korean and the US are actively involved in testing V2X technologies. (Separately, China is actively involved in V2I communications, especially for top-down communications: Traffic lights telling motorists to prepare to stop.) The US government in the past has expressed a preference for DSRC. That was when cellular traffic safety communications, even car-to-car messages, were routed through the cellular infrastructure and crucial messages had the potential to be delayed.

Harman, one of the major automotive electronics suppliers (now part of Samsung), has a single-box solution for 5G cellular communications and V2X that could be in on-sale cars circa 2021-22, says Vishnu GS, VP of the Harman telematics business unit. But if parts of the world swing towards DSRC, one chip can be swapped out and the same module is now 5G telematics and a DSRC radio. Harman also has a solution to integrate every one of the car’s antennas into a single module that fits under the car’s roof — no projections — and would need only a plastic covering over the integrated antennas.

V2X technology will come down in cost, enough so the price of the car will go up, perhaps $ 100-$ 250, or not enough to stop buyers from buying. That’s the hope. Both technologies will have to deal with privacy concerns, although they use public key cryptography for safety. Both will have to deal with issues of the V2X module not being fully sealed off from the non-safety domain, and with it concerns the car’s drivetrain or steering could theoretically be hacked.

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