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Connected Cars Viewed as Essential to Autonomous Vehicles

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March 31, 2020—Can your car speak to surrounding traffic lights? Can it speak to other cars?

A connected car is a car that can communicate with devices in the car and devices, networks and services outside of the car as well.

Data transmitted from the roadside to the vehicle could warn a driver that it is not safe to enter an intersection. Vehicles could serve as data collectors and anonymously transmit traffic and road condition information from every major road within the transportation network, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI)

Right now, the future of the connected car hangs in the balance and is caught between a debate between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other automotive industry advocates on whether cars can talk to each other via C-V2X technologies.

Debby Bezzina, managing director for the center for connected and automated transportation at the UMTRI, shares the differences in connected vehicles and where they are heading in the future.

"I think we're a little bit farther out on a grand scale of me as a driver getting an autonomous vehicle," Bezzina says. "There's vehicles that are out there now but they're typically at low speeds that are doing public transportation. I see that that will be growing and as the technology improves, those vehicles will be able to drive faster and the end goal to me is getting them in hands of regular people to be able to purchase."

For the future of autonomous cars, Bezzina says vehicles need to be connected. She thinks that element of connectivity will enhance the vehicle's performance.

Types of Connected Vehicles

Connected cars are cars that are connected to each other and to the infrastructure either using dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) or cellular vehicle-to-everything, C-V2X. 

Connected car technology has the potential to prevent crashes, save lives and relieve traffic congestion.

Everything regarding testing of connected vehicles in Ann Arbor, Michigan started with DSRC, Bezzina says. 

For non safety applications, vehicles can be connected using cellular towers but for safety applications, the vehicles are connected by dedicated DSRC or C-V2X.

C-V2X has the potential to improve communication but is a few years away from being deployed and DSRC can be deployed today, she says.

Debate Surrounding the Connected Car

The FCC is trying to change the safety spectrum including the 5.9 Ghz spectrum and give away some of it to the WiFi companies, leaving a very small band for either DSRC, C-V2X or both.

In 1999, the FCC allocated 75 mGH of spectrum for intelligent transportation services. The FCC decided to use 5.9 GHz band for DSRC uses like traffic control and traffic congestion detection. 

As of December 2019, the FCC is proposing to use a portion of the airwaves for better WiFi, reported The Washington Post. Automakers like Ford recently warned that the proposal could make car-to-car communications unsafe

For more on the connected car debate, check out what Olivier Blanchard, a senior analyst at Futurum Research,  who has been tracking the topic has to say. Blanchard says that industry and government regulators have been stuck between committing to an existing technology (DSRC) or looking toward a newer but potentially more powerful connectivity platform. C-V2X is able to carry vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity. 

 His post on on the Futurum site illustrates the debate between the potential limits of an existing tech and the possibilities of an emerging one. 


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