Last December, the Obama administration proposed a set of rules to govern the development of V2V systems. V2V is shorthand for vehicle to vehicle. The idea is similar to the technology that aircraft use to talk to each other in flight to minimize the chance that they might try to occupy the same airspace at the same time. In theory, V2V would allow cars and trucks to talk to each other and keep them from bumping into each other while in motion. Motor vehicle accidents kill more than 30,000 people in the US each year and injure hundreds of thousands more. Anything that reduces the carnage has to be a good idea, right?
If the rules are finalized, all new light duty vehicles would have to be required with V2V communication systems within 4 years. The technology would coordinate with safety devices like automatic braking to reduce collisions. V2V could become an important component of the autonomous car that all automakers are rushing to bring to market. The 90 day public comment period has now expired, with more than 400 comments received.
All Those In Favor
Highway safety advocates are strongly in favor of the new rules. The comment from the National Safety Council said the technology adds a layer of awareness and redundancy to on-board vehicle sensors “that will be critical as higher levels of automation are deployed.” The Association of Global Automakers, which represents Toyota, Honda. and Hyundai, says that more than $1 billion in private and public funds have been spent developing the systems. The group says the mandate is “the best way to ensure nationwide deployment” as soon as possible.
Major automotive industry companies, including General Motors, Denso Corp., Delphi Automotive and Toyota, have spent more than a decade developing V2V systems. “The safety benefit of V2V is undeniable. It will save lives, and everybody knows that,” said Harry Lightsey, executive director of federal affairs for connected cars at GM. “A delay in rolling out V2V will cost lives, and that’s a tragedy.” The new Cadillac CTS is the first vehicle from GM to be equipped with a V2V system.
All Those Opposed
In a V2V system, an electronic message about a vehicle’s speed and location is broadcast ten times a second via short range communications that utilize a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum reserved by the FCC in 1999. In today’s high tech world, hacking — a phrase that was virtually unknown at that time — has become a major concern.
For instance, last year an airline pilot deliberately flew a plane into a mountain in the Alps. Ground controllers could have the ability to take over control of an airplane in such cases, but the inability to keep such a system secure from hackers has prevented the idea from moving forward. In its comment, Tesla said policy guidance and industry cooperation would be a better approach for encouraging V2V, calling NHTSA’s V2V strategy “too antiquated and vague” to protect the privacy of V2V messages.
Thinking Outside The Box
BMW is all in favor of V2V but says the way the government wants to go about it is all wrong. In its comment, BMW urged NHTSA to take a technology neutral approach. It said, “many of the shortcomings…can be efficiently and cost effectively addressed” using cellular based systems.
Nexar, an Israeli start up, began operating a smartphone app-based V2V network in New York City last year. It now has about 2,500 vehicles enrolled in its network, according to CEO Eran Shir said. Data collected from the phone’s camera, GPS and internal gyroscope are analyzed in Nexar’s cloud system to warn drivers of impending collisions.
Shir says that NHTSA’s mandate would put cellular-based V2V technology like Nexar’s at a disadvantage because companies would prioritize investments in wireless communications in order to comply with the rule and ignore cellular technology. “I would totally understand if NHTSA said, ‘We’re interested in safety and we want these safety features,’” Shir said. “There are millions of lives at stake. What I think is less reasonable is if NHTSA comes and says we want to regulate the technology. That doesn’t make sense.”
The argument about which technology to use is relevant. “You’re betting on something that at its core is 10 year old technology that isn’t going to have much of a difference on safety for 20 years,” says Marc Scribner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “By the time it’s effective, it will be out of date by 30 years.”
The V2V plan has also drawn fire from the Internet and Television Association, which is the principle trade group representing cable TV industry. It says NHTSA is stepping on the toes of the FCC. They think the frequencies assigned to the V2V plan could be better used for other wireless communications — like those that put dollars in the pockets of cable TV companies.