DSRC holds the key to tomorrow's transportation
First publishedITS America
Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) technologies are poised to revolutionise transportation system planning, management and operations. But will widespread US adoption take five years, or twenty? As Ben Pierce of Battelle explains, the answer depends largely on which roadmap the ITS community chooses to follow for deployment.
Q What is the promise of DSRC?
A DSRC is the most promising and proven technology in the connected vehicle (CV) toolkit. It is already in widespread use in much of Europe and parts of Asia for electronic toll collection and other ITS applications. In the US, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is currently sponsoring three large-scale pilot programs featuring DSRC-based CV technology in New York City, Tampa and southern Wyoming.
DSRC enables fast, reliable vehicle-tovehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication that has the potential to vastly improve both the safety and efficiency of our transportation systems. For example, DSRC could soon be deployed to enable more effective collision-avoidance systems; to improve signal timing based on real-time traffic patterns; to clear the way for emergency responders by alerting cars and traffic signals in their path. DSRC could alert drivers to pedestrians in walkways, and alert pedestrians to oncoming cars; let transit riders know when their bus is approaching, let drivers know where passengers are waiting; and efficiently move traffic before and after large events without the need of on-the-ground personnel.
Q So what is holding back DSRC?
A There is a ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum for CV technologies. To get the full benefits of CV technologies, the industry needs to get to scale. DSRC-enabled infrastructure is only valuable if cars, trucks and buses are equipped to communicate with it. At the same time, there will not be demand for DSRC-enabled vehicles until there are enough other vehicles and infrastructure pieces in place to make connection meaningful. Much like a social media network the value increases as more members join the system.
Q How do we get the scale needed to take DSRC from a novelty to a must-have? A Regulation is the obvious answer.
It is widely expected that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) will include DSRC requirements in their safety regulations within the next ten years. However, it will take much longer than that for regulations to take effect and filter down to individual vehicles and state and municipal transportation systems.
Rather than passively waiting for regulations, the industry can take steps now to pave the way for mainstream deployment.
Of course, costs must come down, standards must be in place and testing must be conducted, but these are solvable problems once CV technologies gain traction. First, the industry needs to support the planners, consumers and programs that will ultimately drive widespread adoption.
Q What does the roadmap look like?
A While individual automakers and municipalities are already experimenting with DSRC technologies - a DSRC-enabled car is already available for the US market now - they are not likely to be the drivers of wide adoption. There are three major avenues that have promise for moving the technology to scale.
The first is to support city- or state-scale pilots. In addition to the DOT pilot projects I have already mentioned, DOT is also supporting the Smart City Challenge, a competitive grant opportunity that will give one city up to $40 million to become the first city to fully integrate technologies including self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors into their transportation network. These large-scale pilot programs will help the industry work out the kinks in the technology and software and inform the development of future standards and regulations.
Another avenue is to find the early adopters because DSRC will also be driven from the consumer side. The early adopters are likely to be owners of large commercial fleets and city transit authorities rather than automakers or individual consumers.
These are the users who will find value in DSRC even when most other vehicles on the road are not yet equipped. Large freight companies, for example, could use DSRC for “platooning,” in which unmanned trucks could follow a lead truck driven by a human driver – that’s already in use in Australia.
Bus systems, police and emergency vehicles and other municipal fleets are also likely to be among the first to deploy DSRC-enabled solutions. DSRC also is a logical complement to the autonomous vehicle movement. Finding and supporting these early adopters will help the industry achieve the scale needed to bring down costs. It will also stimulate deployment of the infrastructure components that will eventually drive consumer demand.
The third route is to engage with transportation planners. Perhaps the most important thing ITS professionals can do now is to actively engage with transportation planners at the state, city and metro level.
Currently, most have not integrated DSRC in any meaningful way into their five- and ten-year transportation improvement plans (TIPs). This is largely because the industry has not effectively communicated the real and immediate benefits of DSRC and the specific steps that need to be incorporated into these plans to bring the technology to fruition. DSRC provides answers to many of the transportation challenges planners are trying to solve. If we want to see the benefit of CV technologies in five years rather than twenty, we need to provide the transportation planning community with the technical support and subject matter expertise they need to write it into their plans now.
Q Could DSRC move to the mainstream much faster?
A Certainly. It has taken more than ten years for ITS technologies such as dynamic message signs, ramp metering, signal phase and timing, and managed lanes to gain widespread acceptance. With the right incentives and support, DSRC could move to the mainstream much faster.
Battelle has been working to bring CV technologies to communities across the US for more than a decade, dating back to the very first Connected Vehicle Proofof- Concept test in 2006. More recently, Battelle will be developing and deploying a V2I transit safety system that alerts bus drivers when a pedestrian is in an upcoming crosswalk or in the roadway at transit stops. The system also will alert pedestrians when a bus is near if they are in danger from being hit by the transit vehicle.
These projects and others like them have the potential to save lives, reduce congestion and improve mobility in our communities. To make it happen, the research community, ITS professionals, transportation planners and equipment manufacturers will all have to come together to remove the remaining barriers to implementation.
• Ben Pierce has 25 years of experience in transportation consulting. His experience includes acquiring, managing and conducting studies that examine and assess the impact of different policy and/or technology options on the transportation system. He is an expert in connected vehicle technologies and has led several large connected vehicle and dynamic mobility application deployment projects over the last decade.