First publishedin ITS International
EN-V demonstrates that the right combination of sensors and communications means not every car on the highway need to be equipped with the same levels of technology (Picture: GM Corp)
Dedicated Short Range Communications technology, says Cisco's Paul Brubaker, is not by itself progressive enough to sustain long-term innovation in the connected mobility environment - and yet IPv6 and other developments remain largely ignored by policy-makers
The recent Shanghai Expo offered a glimpse of the future of connected transportation - at least in the form that General Motors
and its partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corportation (SAIC) envision it.
It's not the first time that GM has laid out a rather prescient vision of the future; GM designer and transportation technology pioneer Norman Bel Geddes foresaw the interstate highway system in something he called the Futurama at New York's 1939 World's Fair. Over 60 years apart, both exhibits offer autonomous driving as an objective although the more recent one is different in that much of its technology actually already exists.
GM's working prototype of a personal autonomous vehicle is called the Electric Networked-Vehicle (EN-V). It is pronounced "envy", and for good reason. As the name suggests, the vehicle relies on pervasive wireless broadband communications technology to achieve a safe, efficient and entertaining transportation experience. The connectivity basics behind the prototype can also apply to other modes of transportation and manufacturers' vehicles but if this vision is going to become a reality the global transportation community must focus on commercial development and deployment.
EN-V is a brilliant convergence of communications, sensor and entertainment technologies - a comfortable, safe, clean cocoon in which people can work, communicate with colleagues, family or friends or amuse themselves with games, music or movies whilst zipping down the highway to their pre-programmed destination on the most efficient and effective course. Distracted driving incidents and car crashes become increasingly rare, if not entirely eliminated, and because this is the right combination of sensors and communications not every car on the highway need be equipped with the same level of technology; EN-V can peacefully and safely share the roads with vehicles of an earlier vintage.
But how important is wireless broadband communications technology to enabling the future as laid out by GM? While the prototypes are indeed working, the full scope of the vision will require new levels of wireless broadband to enable the rich video applications and Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6)-enabled infrastructure and sensor development and deployment to deliver the autonomous driving and convenience applications.
New levels of broadband
Clearly the future of safe, convenient, productive and entertaining travel is going to require new levels of wireless broadband connectivity. The good news is that it is coming fast, mostly driven by consumer and commercial markets that are increasingly demanding broadband-enabled applications always available on any device; think about being able to access streaming, real-time HD content on your PDA. Entertainment is also driving demand as consumers go after video and interactive 3D gaming on mobile devices that will also require new levels of wireless broadband. The demand is there and people have shown a willingness to pay for it. It's the consumer applications that are driving the migration to Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) championed by Sprint
Nextel and the competing Long Term Evolution (LTE) championed by Verizon
. This situation is rapidly changing. The wireless broadband required to enable the full vision of autonomous driving and communications laid out in Shanghai is perhaps a decade away, with the development of 5G and 6G connectivity and applications. However, if we don't allow perfection to be the enemy of the good EN-V and EN-V-like vehicles could become reality sooner.
Running in parallel
One of the most interesting things about the EN-V is that it actually includes 802.11p Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) technology as part of a comprehensive collision avoidance architecture; an architecture that also makes heavy use of sensor technology. It is clear, however, that IP-based wireless communications capabilities are growing at a rapid pace and consumer demand will drive deployment of more robust capabilities. To gauge consumer interest in this new level of mobile broadband connectivity and applications, one need only look at unmet demand for Apple
's so-called 4G-enabled iPhones.
Mobility and vehicle applications are expected to be increasingly enabled through the deployment of IP-based WiMax, LTE and 4/5G communications technologies. A number of vehicle-based working groups have been established to examine and plan for this convergence. These infrastructure upgrades are relatively easier to deploy versus creating new infrastructure as they can be installed in addition to or alongside existing infrastructure by the service providers who own them.
New levels of wireless broadband connectivity are the key to enhancing and enabling connected transportation not just for passenger cars but for commercial and transit vehicles as well. This level of connectivity in combination with improved sensor technology will dramatically improve situational awareness and enable new, exciting applications that employ common, commercially viable infrastructure and newly accessible data.
It is both interesting and troubling that few within the connected vehicle community are adopting this broader, inclusive and more holistic vision that more accurately reflects deployment scenarios. Many, particularly those in the US, have chosen to ignore the wireless broadband advances at or just over the horizon. They continue to almost exclusively push DSRC standards that have been in use since the mid-1990s. Rather than challenge the status quo and look to leapfrog capability there seems to be a growing consensus on adopting the slowly evolving technology and standards that are 802.11p DSRC.
While it is likely that the latency benefits of DSRC will be exceeded in the near future thanks to advances in 4G and 5G wireless communications capabilities, there are good reasons for including DSRC in today's deployable safety applications: the US Federal Communications Commission
has reserved spectrum for DSRC-based safety applications; it offers low latency today; and it has enabled proven (but relatively modest) capability. But note that several vendors who provide technical advice to government have been actively advocating broader DSRC-based solutions because they see additional business opportunity should this become the standard.
With the right levels of backing from industry, EN-V's communications Technology could be production-ready within a decade (Picture: GM Corp)