C-ITS in Europe: jazz or symphony?

Communication between vehicles on the road is going to be increasingly important. Richard Lax of Kapsch TrafficCom explains why music is a good guide to the way that this could work safely
Detection, Monitoring & Machine Vision / August 18, 2021
C-ITS  © Bo Li Dreamstime.com | © Darren Baker Dreamstime.com
So, ‘jazz’ or 'symphony'? C-ITS needs to be future-proofed and this is about governance, not technologies (© Bo Li Dreamstime.com | © Darren Baker Dreamstime.com)

Imagine: one day in the future, highly-automated vehicles will share public space with various robots and drones. A day before that day in the future, maybe in around 15 years, when cars sold today could just still be in circulation: traffic consists of a mix of highly-automated vehicles and vehicles with low automation levels sold in the early 2020s. They all need to be aware of each other, where they are, where they intend to go and at what speed. They need to trust each other not to bump into each other - literally! This requires direct ad hoc communication between different actors, instantly and always. The first cars equipped for such a world are entering the market in Europe now and road operators are readying their roads and starting to equip them. Cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS) is the name of this opus - and like any other opus it requires a score.

Europe got its bearings right on C-ITS and the key here is not so much the mastery of technology, it’s the mastery of governance. The regulatory framework is what makes C-ITS tick. Though Europe’s regulatory framework for C-ITS still needs to cater for future legal needs, it was sufficient to create the certainty, and the rules, which the launch in 2019 required. If it gets the rest right, it has the chance to lead.

LEFT: C-ITS as ‘jazz’: a wider variety of future technologies and possibilities  RIGHT: C-ITS as ‘symphony’: governance is the key | © Bo Li Dreamstime.com | © Darren Baker Dreamstime.com
Vehicles all need to be aware of each other, where they are, where they intend to go and at what speed © Tobias Arhelger | Dreamstime.com

Tall order? Maybe the coming revision of the European Union ITS Directive will be an indicator of how big Europe and European industry is thinking.

Europe takes its bearings: what are we playing?

Does C-ITS need governance and if so, how to govern it? This discussion culminated in 2019 with the rejection of the C-ITS Delegated Act. The rejection followed an unnecessarily tech-heavy and confusing debate on an essentially philosophical question. Technology was a side show that simply took over the stage. Buried in thousands of pages of position papers were the questions: Why regulate at all? Don’t innovative technologies thrive most with freedom? Can industry not agree rules itself?

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, in his management primer No Rules Rules, comments that, if you need rules or not depends on your objective: “Where error prevention is clearly more important than innovation…if you are…managing a safety-critical environment…a rules-and-process symphony is the way to go.... But for those of you who are operating in the creative economy, the contrary…Build a jazz band instead.”

To stick to Netflix lingo: is C-ITS symphony or jazz? These two powerful narratives competed in Europe when the European Council rejected the C-ITS Delegated Act. They were driven by different business models.

The ‘jazz narrative’

Enter innovation potential: C-ITS is a policy term and encompasses a variety of technologies that offer a huge array of opportunities - from safety and ‘error prevention’ to any imaginable commercial service. The innovation narrative looks strongly at the commercial potential and a large variety of future technologies and their possibilities - in Netflix terms, ‘jazz’. Innovation flowers with less governance and more freedom. In policy terms this narrative was couched in the then-upcoming 5G deployment and 5G-related terminology.

The ‘symphony narrative’

In 2015, an autonomous vehicle crashes. The US National Transportation Safety Board examines the crash and concludes for higher levels of automation direct connectivity is a ‘must’ for road safety. Major Chinese industry players see C-ITS is a prerequisite for higher levels of automation. China’s ‘Vehicle Innovative Development Strategy’ vows to put its C-ITS environment in place by 2025. In Europe, EU member states agreed vehicle connectivity is essential for safety and so did the European Parliament. Fast forward to after deployment: EuroNCAP gave its safety award to C-ITS in Volkwagen’s Golf 8. So clear: C-ITS is - in Netflix terms - ‘symphony’, hence requires governance, no matter how C-ITS looks from a technological point of view.

Symphony or jazz? A strong ‘this-is-safety-critical’ narrative presented by many automotive OEM and road operators clashed with a forcefully presented ‘regulation-limits-5G-deployment’ narrative by some mobile network operators, chip manufacturers and a few OEMs. The simple question of which purpose C-ITS served, thickly-veiled in technical and ever more confusing terminology, was stunning policymakers into freeze. This was 2019, when the C-ITS Delegated Act was rejected by the Council. Automotive OEM and road operators probably already then believed that the regulatory framework in the EU offered them enough radio spectrum and the C-ITS security framework to deploy. They simply waited to maximise legal certainty. Since they bear the legal responsibility and the cost of C-ITS is theirs, so was the decision to deploy.

China is currently developing its own C-ITS ecosystem and government strategy foresees it for 2025. The US has just reduced the amount of spectrum for C-ITS, dedicating parts of the band to commercial Wi-Fi. We need to wait to see how industry reacts. Korea is looking to move ahead: the ‘Korean New Deal’ funds C-ITS on Korea’s road network, with OEMs - I would guess - likely to follow.

Singing from the same song sheet

‘No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.’ - Halford E. Luccock, Yale University

‘Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.’ - Michael Jordan, basketball legend

Radio regulation in the field of C-ITS in Europe does not prescribe any technology © Haiyin | Dreamstime.com
Radio regulation in the field of C-ITS in Europe does not prescribe any technology © Haiyin | Dreamstime.com

So all sorted for C-ITS in Europe? For the time being: yes.

C-ITS needs to be future-proofed and this is about governance, not technologies. Technologies just need to go together over long periods of time – so without disruption. The most pressing issue for sure will be security: when talking ‘safety critical’, security is a must-have, particularly with higher levels of automation in mind.

Technology will develop, and future C-ITS technologies are already in the making. China is working on its own C-ITS ecosystem. New technologies are bound to appear in Europe as well.

Radio regulation in the field of C-ITS in Europe does not prescribe any technology: the transport safety band is licence-free and there is sufficient spectrum available. As long as a new technology does not disturb the incumbent ones and is able to prove that, you are good to go.

Security has to become binding. Europe has the luxury of an agreed security credential management system. Making it an obligation would add legal certainty to C-ITS. If this becomes a public infrastructure and would be for any economic actor to use, it could be for security what roads are for economic development.

Most of us have probably already experienced upgrading a computer and suddenly software does not work anymore. Anyone who remembers the discussions on the eCall will recall the nagging question ‘what if the technology expires’? When human lives depend on safety-critical systems, continuity is key; cars and roads have long lifecycles, manufacturers lose contact with their customers as vehicles are sold on, et cetera. Any technology transition in this field has to be a well-managed, not a disrupted, one.

All C-ITS actors have to speak the same language and the language spoken by cars and roads today will need to be spoken by newcomers too. The upgrades and the language will also need to be addressed one day.

C-ITS and 5G

So here we go: in 2019 Volkswagen serialised C-ITS, branded as Car2X communication, in its Golf 8, now followed by its electric vehicles. 6,000 kilometres of roads are already equipped with C-ITS in Europe, and that number is bound to rise. Europe has a single security credential management system that assures the authentication of C-ITS messages. Austria melds C-ITS and 5G cellular networks; it is advanced deploying C-ITS as well, as it is a 5G pioneer. It works as envisioned in the European Commission’s 5G Global Developments paper, where C-ITS and 5G complement each other. German motorway operator Die Autobahn has issued a press release on its own C-ITS launch. Europe is moving ahead and, surprisingly, considering the heated debate, very much as originally intended.

The revision of the ITS Directive at the end of 2021 is the chance the EU has to push its C-ITS even further and make sure that cars and roads cooperating under C-ITS today are the robust backbone of more efficient, decarbonised and safe mobility – made in Europe.

Once the basic rules on security, interoperability and continuity are in place the jazz can start. Stay tuned and listen to the music.

Personal note: I was, of course, part of the debate on the C-ITS Delegated Act and also guilty of generating an unnecessarily technology-heavy debate. I personally distributed in excess of 7,500 pages of position papers in the European Parliament alone in April 2019. By the way: hand-delivered, ‘craft lobbying’, so to say. For this article I do not quote any of the actors directly, so there are no industry statements, only deployment announcements feature. I have tried to quote official documents that were used by both sides in the debate and boil the debate down to its essentials. I have an opinion on the matter that shines through. I welcome cultured debate on my LinkedIn account or we’ll meet at the ITS World Congress in Hamburg in October.

Richard Lax is responsible for EU Affairs at Kapsch TrafficCom

C-ITS Deep Dive: search the items in inverted commas

  • Direct connectivity is a must, argues the National Trans-portation Safety board in ‘Collision Between a Car
  • Operating With Automated Vehicle Control Systems and a Tractor-Semitrailer Truck Near Williston, Florida’
  • EU Member States argue in the ‘Declaration of Amsterdam Cooperation in the field of connected and automated driving’ that C-ITS is essential for road safety,     environmental performance and traffic efficiency.
  • The European Parliament recognises the role of C-ITS for road safety in Istvan Ujhelyi’s report ‘On a European strategy on Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (2017/2067(INI))’, the role of C-ITS for safety and environment.
  • EuroNCAP awarded Volkwagen’s Golf 8 its ‘Reward 2020 Local Hazard Warning’, the official recognition of the road safety benefits of Volkwagen’s C-ITS deployment.
  • Europe makes sufficient radio spectrum available for C-ITS: ‘Harmonisation of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band for real-time information exchange will improve road and urban rail transport safety’.
  • Europe’s security credential management system is in place: ‘Intelligent transport systems Cooperative, connected and automated mobility (CCAM)’
  • © Haiyin | Dreamstime.com
    © Haiyin | Dreamstime.com
    China in it’s 2020 Vehicle Innovative Development Strategy foresees it’s C-ITS environment for 2025: ‘China Plans to Mass Produce Driverless Cars by 2025 Later Than Previous Forecast’
  • The new US spectrum regulation reduces spectrum for C-ITS: ‘Use of the 5.850-5.925 GHz Band A Rule by the Federal Communications Commission on 05/03/2021‘
  • Korea includes C-ITS into its 2020 ‘National Strategy for a Great Transformation: The Korean New Deal’.
  • Volkwagen serialises C-ITS: ‘Car2X: The new era of intelligent vehicle networking’
  • Austria deploys C-ITS: ‘ASFINAG connects roads with vehicles on a large scale in Europe’
  • Germany deploys C-ITS: ‘Intelligente Mobilität für weniger Verkehrsunfälle‘
  • The European Commission elaborates on how C-ITS technologies complement each other: ‘5G Global Developments SWD (2016) 306’, p 9 ff
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