The Federal Government is sending a strong signal that it wants new cars to be able to talk to each other, initially to help prevent accidents at intersections. This week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, issued an “Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” with respect to vehicle to vehicle communications (V2V). The automobile industry has been running trials on the new technology for some time, and several car makers are reportedly ready to start deploying it, but not until there’s a federal standard. As NHTSA says in its posting in the Federal Register:
“NHTSA believes that V2V capability will not develop absent regulation, because there would not be any immediate safety benefits for consumers who are early adopters of V2V. V2V begins to provide safety benefits only if a significant number of vehicles in the fleet are equipped with it and if there is a means to ensure secure and reliable communication between vehicles. NHTSA believes that no single manufacturer would have the incentive to build vehicles able to “talk” to other vehicles, if there are no other vehicles to talk to—leading to likely market failure without the creation of a mandate to induce collective action.”
NHTSA is hoping to initially use the systems to to tackle two problems; left turns, and vehicle movement through intersections, two situations where many accidents take place. The idea is that if car A is coming into an intersection at 40 miles an hour, its signal could warn car B not to proceed into that intersection. The public comment period on the proposal runs until late October. Even then, it’s possible the new rules won’t be promulgated until 2016, with the technology deployed in new cars coming a year or two later. But even with new rules, it could take a decade or more before the majority of cars on the road have V2V communications.
The decision by NHTSA to move toward V2V could have some unintended consequences. Sam Lamagna, director, Intel’s Automotive Division sounded a cautionary note,
“Intel has always been in favor of technology that helps improve car safety and creates safer driving experiences. Vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity has potential and can support intelligence in the car. However, while sharing and consuming data is important for cars, cars should not be fully dependent on connectivity to ensure a safer, more convenient driving experience.”
Intel has been investing millions in developing new automotive technologies for the so-called “Connected Car” hoping that its chips will be at the heart of many new automotive infotainment systems.
The government’s decision to take V2V communications to the next step may be only a baby step. But combined with technologies like frontal crash avoidance, blind spot alerts, lane departure alerts, backup cameras, and adaptive cruise control, they add up to a slow but steady march first to smart cars that protect their occupants, and ultimately to the self-driving car. This is all good news for those who intend to purchase new cars in the coming years. Does that mean that the rest of us will be left behind? Not necessarily.
Some safety systems are slowly making it into the aftermarket, among them a first of its kind device from Safe Drive Systems, which warns of both upcoming front collisions as well as lane departure. Safe Drive CEO Rona Aharonson, says her company’s radar based collision avoidance system provides enough advanced warning time to head off the vast majority of collisions, three to five seconds. And she says most collisions can be averted even with only 1 1/2 seconds of warning. Up until now the technology has been deployed primarily in high end luxury sedans. Aharonson says it’s taken years for the industry to start selling aftermarket backup cameras. And there’s no obvious reason it couldn’t come up with after market V2V systems as well.
She supports the NHTSA V2V initiative, “I think it’s a very positive direction that they are going in. I think it’s going to reduce the number of accidents, the number of accidents in which people are killed, or even injured, …but I think that getting the cars to talk to each other is going to take a very long time.”
She points out that these new technologies are particularly important to 50+ drivers,
“People who are in that age group have probably been in at least one accident in their lifetimes and they don’t want to go through that again. People in their late fifties start noticing that their motor skills are slowing down, but they want to maintain their independence and to go on driving, and to have these types of features available to them can only be beneficial.”
But Aharonson is also cautious about giving up too much control, “Ultimately in vehicles, even if they drive you, even if they tell you what to do, it needs to be the driver’s responsibility… we should only rely on technology to assist us, not to take over our responsibilities.”