Could the mass deployment of V2X communications finally be set to become a reality?

4 min read

News that the UK Government is set to trial HGV platoons or ‘road trains’ – convoys of up to 10 trucks operated by one driver who will wirelessly control the steering, acceleration and braking of all the vehicles – is good news for proponents of vehicle to vehicle (V2X) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) communications technology.

Intended to improve road safety and to help ease congestion on the UK’s motorway network, the tests will take place on a stretch of the M6 near Carlisle.

The idea of V2X or V2I communications isn’t new. Discussions on V2X have been around for many years, looking to create a system which can receive and deliver alerts to and from other vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure.

“Whether easing traffic congestion or improving fuel efficiency, V2X capabilities are intended to benefit both automakers and drivers alike,” suggests Maurice Geraets, senior director (automotive) at NXP. “The platforms currently under development will offer a V2X capability capable of ‘seeing’ 500m to 1km ahead, which means drivers will be safer. It will have a huge impact.”

V2X technology, intended to enable the detection of hazards beyond the driver’s line of sight, is seen as complementing Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). Not only does it aid drivers in terms of avoiding or being made aware of hazards – messages can include making drivers aware of blind intersection collisions, road hazards, road works, the presence of emergency vehicles, as well as traffic signals or signage indicators – it allows vehicles, as in the M6 ‘project’, to platoon together for greater efficiency; vehicles can also be rerouted based on traffic density. Significantly, V2X could help to generate significant amounts of data that could prove invaluable in terms of infrastructure planning and better road management.

According to market analysts, the V2X market, at least in Europe, is likely to be driven by retrofit equipment manufacturers, embedded device makers and telecom and wireless solutions suppliers.

Most leading OEMs and Tier 1 automotive companies have tended to view V2X as a ‘long-term’ technology as the industry looks to embrace the concept of the autonomous vehicle. For many, V2X is nothing more than ‘another sensor’, but one that can deliver greater system understanding over longer distances.

While the idea of the connected car and of V2V communications has been under development for a number of years, it has not been an easy journey from the drawing board to deployment. Concerns around security and a lack of infrastructure have combined to hold back development.

However, a number of recent announcements suggest that V2X systems are finally gaining traction.

At last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA), Continental unveiled a V2X technology that issues an audible and visual warning to alert the driver of an impending collision, providing automatic intervention only if the driver fails to observe the warning despite the probability of an accident. Other functions included an electronic brake light and what was described as a Roadworks Assistant to aid the driver.

Connected Car Compute Platform

In Geneva last month, Harman International launched the Connected Car Compute Platform, which can deliver what it described as ‘advanced vehicle intelligence, together with V2X capability’.

The platform uses NXP’s wireless RoadLINK technology to alert drivers of critical traffic situations well beyond the range of current production sensors, and allows drivers to ‘see’ around corners, as well as through traffic obstacles.

According to Gunther Kraft, VP connected car system development at Harman: “We wanted to provide drivers with an intelligent, adaptable and predictive solution in the development of a flexible and secure V2X solution as part of our compute platform. Our aim is to not only improve safety significantly, but also the driver’s comfort and convenience.”

The LIVS automotive platform provides real-time information and operates on IEEE 802.11p, a wireless communication standard that has been designed specifically for the automotive industry. It connects directly to surrounding infrastructure and vehicles in what are essentially ad-hoc networks that are determined by the vehicle’s proximity.

Security is a crucial issue and the platform is protected against illegal attacks by a hardware security module from NXP.

“For V2X to work effectively, any message that is received needs to be authenticated. The messages received are not encrypted, because all vehicles need to be able to read them,” Geraets explains. ”Instead, RoadLINK uses a digital signature to authenticate the message being received.”

The module, together with Harman’s own safety architecture, can ensure secure Over the Air updates. That ability is essential when it comes to deployment.

The V2X application software runs on NXP’s i.MX 6Solo applications processor and is intended to provide the platform with performance-scalability.

Kraft says that Harman started looking seriously at V2X systems two years ago, beginning with an assessment of the technology and how it could be deployed.

“Initially, we focused on assessing the readiness and maturity of the hardware and software available to us. We started to see customer interest in V2X in the middle of 2015, but in essence, they were looking at V2X as little more than how it could add to existing functionality.”

Much of the discussion around V2X remains focused on functionality and Kraft concedes that, while more companies are grappling with the concept, ‘government regulation would certainly provide a ‘push’ for the technology and could help to speed implementation’.

A fully deployed and secure infrastructure is a major hurdle for the adoption of V2X and many analysts believe the technology will languish unless regulators encourage it. Many also worry that, without a government mandate, the technology will not be adopted widely enough to make it financially viable.

France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Austria are expected to become the first major European nations to deploy an intelligent transportation system and pressure is growing in the US to mandate V2X by 2019.

“Whether you are looking at current use cases or future ones, the successful deployment of V2X will depend on a viable infrastructure and mass deployment,” suggests Kraft. “Will different vehicle models be able to communicate with one another and how many messages will a platform be able to be handle and will it be secure – is the data that is being sent reliable?”

Another issue holding back V2X is, apart from security and getting enough vehicles using the technology on the road, the lack of suitable business models capable of attracting infrastructure owners, although opportunities to deploy the technology in confined locations, such as logistics hubs or ports, are certainly proving of interest.

“Governments see the benefits of V2X and, in Europe, a number are implementing or looking to implement V2I investments, laying down the infrastructure necessary to encourage the automakers to invest further in this technology,” Geraets concludes. “These moves can be seen as necessary catalysts and will be crucial in driving V2X deployment in the years ahead.”