By Olivia Marcus
What if your car could “talk” to other vehicles, predicting imminent danger and warning you before a crash?
It sounds like science fiction. But vehicle-to-vehicle communication is the newest brainchild of the auto industry, and it might be coming to a road near you within the next few years.
The MIT Technology Review named V2V one of the biggest tech breakthroughs of 2015, predicting that it will become widely available as soon as next year. General Motors was the first major car company to commit, announcing in September that it would release a V2V-equipped Cadillac by 2017.
“I hear estimates all the time on people rolling it out,” said Debra Bezzina, senior project manager for the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. “It is very close to being production ready.”
The technology has been in the works for more than a decade, but a recent pilot program has brought it closer to deployment than ever.
Conducted jointly by the University of Michigan and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the pilot put nearly 3,000 V2V-equipped cars on the roads of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The technology allowed the cars to broadcast their GPS position, speed and other data to nearby vehicles. Cars then used the information to communicate with one another and avoid crashes and accidents.
“It provides consumers with what I like to call 360-degree coverage,” said Bezzina, noting that V2V goes beyond current sensor and radar based safety systems that are limited by their field of view.
After analyzing data from the pilot program, NHTSA estimated that V2V technology could prevent more than half a million accidents and save more than 1,000 lives each year if implemented across the United States.
But like a vaccine, the safety benefits of V2V only kick in if other cars are equipped with the same technology. General Motors’ high-tech Cadillac may have few other cars to talk to in 2017—defeating the main purpose of the innovation..
“We’ve all kind of said there’s no benefit to being the first adopter because it only works if your car is equipped and you’re in conflict with another car that’s equipped,” said Mike Shulman, technical leader for Ford Motor Company. “So we’ve all said the only way to really move this along is through a regulation.”
In August, NHTSA announced that it would like to mandate V2V technology in new cars “to induce collective action.” Draft regulations for a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard are expected next year.
“It’s really been a unique industry collaboration and public-private partnership,” Shulman said. “We think we’re really doing something important.”
According to Shulman, all the major auto makers—including General Motors, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes, Hyundai, Ford and Kia—have been sharing data on V2V to help standardize communications between cars of different brands.
These companies (along with tech manufacturers like Delphi) are working together to develop the same technology, Shulman said, although each automaker will decide how its own interface looks and functions.
“It’s really been a unique kind of collaboration where normal competitors have said, ‘None of us can do this on our own, and we want to work together to bring this to deployment,’” Shulman said.
But before V2V hits the streets, it’s likely to hit a few roadblocks.
The Federal Trade Commission filed a comment to NHTSA in January, citing concerns about GPS tracking and data collection.
“People want privacy in their cars,” said Shulman. “If it’s a mandated system—a system they haven’t decided they want to opt into—then they want to know that even though their car is sending out a message ten times per second… you’re not identifying the specific vehicle, the driver, the license plate or anything like that. And you’re not tracking them around.”
NHTSA said it is aware of privacy concerns and is working to establish comprehensive protections before V2V is deployed. But experts are confident that most of the necessary security measures are already in place.
“We put a bunch of safeguards in place, both technical and policy,” Shulman said, emphasizing that the technology was built with consumer security in mind. Schulman said all V2V signals are authenticated and anonymous, making them difficult to track or alter.
As for privacy, Bezzina said the data is kept only on “a moment-by-moment basis, per the vision of the Department of Transportation.”
“We’ve been working in a pre-competitive way to agree on the standards,” Shulman said. “There will be some manufacturers that will deploy this in the next one or two years. There will be others that are still doing testing and evaluation.”
A decade from now, Bezzina said consumers can expect to see “a pretty good rollout of connected vehicle technology.”
After that, cars might even drive themselves.
“Connected vehicle technology will be an enabler for automated vehicles,” Bezzina said, noting that V2V is already being used in conjunction with self-driving technology. “In 10 years, we’ll start to see that more and more.”