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Intelligent Transportation Systems

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Intelligent Transportation Systems

Sponsor: Digi International

Take a bite size look at the tech landscape of Intelligent Transportation Systems - where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. Then explore more with our partner Digi International »

Taking a Deep Dive into New V2X Architectures

By Steve Taranovich for Mouser Electronics

Sponsor: KEMET, TE Connectivity

Emerging vehicular networking applications, such as V2X, and use cases will need stringent Quality of Service (QoS) requirements in latency, data rate, reliability, and communication range. Technologies often used in ultimately developing an autonomous vehicle center around three types of sensors: camera, radar, and LiDAR. However, vehicle-to-everything (V2X), another wireless technology that already exists, can bring significant added value to autonomous vehicles. V2X refers to high-bandwidth, low latency, and reliable communication between a broad range of transport and traffic-related sensors. 5G mobile networks will provide connectivity for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications.

In the following, we will discuss how the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) intends to use 5G in V2X applications with significant advantages over current dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) or other Cellular-V2X (C-V2X) proposals. Worth noting is that the word cellular, in C-V2X, is somewhat misleading. In this application, cellular does not refer to a cellular network such as 5G, but instead to the technology of the basic electronics used in cellular radios, for direct communication between two radios.

A Technology Evolution is Coming

From a communication technology perspective, future Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) services are widely accepted. This will ultimately lead to autonomous driving and require a high level of connectivity in vehicles via advanced communication technology such as 5G V2X. After many years of research, driven by academia and industry, and the delivery of mature technology enablers for 5G, 3GPP is drafting the standard for 5G V2X, starting with Release 16.

Let's first look at the definition of V2X. This vehicle-to-everything technology is a means of two-way communication that enables the transmission of information between an automotive or electric vehicle and any surrounding entity that might affect that vehicle. V2X applications will have an important impact on safety and convenience well before full autonomy becomes a reality. V2X technology will also enable less gridlock, reduce environmental impact, and add more vehicle comforts for drivers and passengers.

5G, coupled with V2X, will enhance vehicle and pedestrian safety with capabilities such as vehicle notification and control for approaching emergency vehicles with distance/direction information, pedestrians crossing in a crosswalk (traffic lights/signals will be controlled or extended for safety and during unexpected events, allowing the identification and avoidance of a pedestrian darting into traffic. When an accident is near, notification of its location and distance will be sent. Things such as school bus notifications, including unloading/loading school children in the area, will also keep pedestrians safe. Cellular-vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) is a subset of V2X.

It will supplement line-of-sight (LoS) sensors such as cameras, radar, and lidar for non-LoS awareness, which is critical for safer driving. C-V2X will also enable larger sensing coverage than LoS sensors and is the foundation for vehicles to communicate with each other along with everything that surrounds them. 3GPP started standardization work of cellular V2X (C-V2X) in Release 14 in 2014. It is based on LTE as the underlying technology. Specifications were published in 2017.

The types of EV power transfer communications capabilities include vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), vehicle-to-network (V2N), vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P), and vulnerable road users like cyclists, vehicle-to-device (V2D), and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) Figure 1.

Figure 1: The main C-V2X use cases: Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P), Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I), and Vehicle-to-Network (V2N). V2X safety messages may include Cooperative Awareness Messages (CAM) and Decentralized Environmental Notification Messages (DENM) in Europe or Basic Safety Message (BSM) in the US. (Image Source: Reference 1)

The automotive industry is also pursuing ways to reduce the costs for On-Board Units (OBUs) that will support 5G V2X while avoiding/minimizing any increase of the vehicles' prices.

5G and V2X

5G will make V2X easier, faster, and more reliable. The main difference between a 5G and V2X framework can be summarized as follows:

  • 5G, like any radio mobile service, uses an infrastructure in which the landscape is divided into individual cells, widely overlapped, and managed by proper antenna systems, called base stations.
  • V2X, like any wireless service, exhibits a more flexible structure, where small antenna-device systems, called hot spots, assure best-effort connections by using a strong co-operation strategy.

DSRC Versus C-V2X

The high-speed communication protocols that come into play here for vehicle safety are DSRC and C-V2X. These two protocols operate at very high speed with a high-frequency exchange of data at low latency. DSRC has a data rate of 6Mbps to 26Mbps in the 5850MHZ to 5925MHz band. C-V2x has a data rate of 26Mbps (RX) Max 26Mbps (TX). Both operate in the 5.9GHz band, and both use the same use cases and the same message sets (SAE J2735 and J2945), and both also use digital signatures for security and trust in message providers. DSRC and C-V2X radios do not connect, but they are broadcasting vehicle location, acceleration, and speed while listening to other radios.

The two technologies use different wireless standards. DSRC uses WAVE IEEE (802.11p), and C-V2X uses long-term evolution (LTE), which cellphones use. The FCC allocated the 5.9 GHz band to Wi-Fi and C-V2X in November 2020.

These two radio technologies cannot talk to each other, and their respective ranges are quite different. DSRC is around 300m, where C-V2X has lower latencies, 20 percent to 30 percent more range, and performs much better in the presence of obstructions than DSRC. Overall, C-V2X has significantly better performance. However, DSRC still does have sufficient range and reliability for key safety applications.

C-V2X Sidelinking

5G, Release 16, brought sidelinking to industry C-V2X with 5G New Radio (NR). This release advanced C-V2X applications such as platooning, advanced driving, extended sensors, and remote driving. Strict latency and high reliability must be guaranteed because of the need for emergency braking and collision avoidance in critical driving situations. C-V2X’s smallest transmission latency is at most 4ms and can be lower depending on the implementation. It is difficult to quantize reliability here, but each new Release has added another group of improvements in performance and safety, which has enhanced reliability. New releases are scheduled to continue on this path of safety and reliability improvements.

The bulk of the traffic that will be carried out by short-range communications, especially in the first phase of V2X deployment, will be periodic broadcasting messages by each vehicle communicating its status and movements.

In dense traffic areas, available channel resources will saturate and lead to an increase in packet losses. This could endanger driver and passenger safety. Congestion-control algorithms were examined and defined to modify certain parameters before these conditions reach critical levels. However, instead of looking at specific algorithms, researchers examined the Wi-Fi standard approach (IEEE 802.11p) versus the cellular standard approach (sidelinking LTE-V2X as defined by 3GPP as part of C-V2X in Release 14).

The C-V2X communication technology was developed by 3GPP to enable direct communications among vehicular user equipment (VUE) over the sidelink, also named PC5 interface. C-V2X sidelink is the first wireless system to introduce distance as a dimension at the physical layer. This will enable achieving a uniform communication range across widely varying radio environments for both LoS and non-LoS.

C-V2X includes two modes of communication from Release 14: direct mode (PC5) for the most immediate and latency-sensitive communications, and network mode (known as Uu) since it links User Equipment to the UMTS Terrestrial Radio Access Network. It uses an existing cellular network for broadcast-type communications.

For the PC5 mode:

  • 1 Mode 3 (scheduled) in which the sidelink resource assignment is performed with the supervision of the eNodeB and requires cellular infrastructure support for radio resource management.
  • 2 Mode 4 (autonomous), where resource and interference management is performed by vehicles in a distributed manner and does not involve cellular infrastructure (and can be used in areas without cellular coverage).

Security and Privacy in V2X Communication

LTE-based V2X communication uses a high capacity, large cell coverage range, and widely deployed infrastructure to support various types of vehicular communication services for safety and non-safety applications. Technical organizations such as 3GPP and Qualcomm have already prepared the roadmap toward 5G-based V2X services.

Security defined in 3GPP mainly includes confidentiality, integrity, authenticity, and resistance to replay attack.

New privacy and security challenges, including secure mobility management for group-oriented autonomous platoons, reliable cooperative driving, efficient and privacy-preserving vehicular big data sharing and processing, and more, demand more investigation in 5G vehicular networks.

In the scenario of the possible solutions for automotive security and safety assurance against any cyberattack, the full adoption of a double-key cryptosystem is advisable.

V2X applications depend on continuous, detailed location information, which can lead to privacy concerns. In a privately owned vehicle, location traces will reveal the movements and activities of the driver, who might or might not be the owner of the vehicle. In short, sending and disseminating V2X user location information might have a possible privacy concern for the owner and driver of the vehicle.

Other V2X applications include communication between vehicles that will augment existing methods to help with left- or right-turn assistance, emergency braking warnings, and improved situational awareness at intersections. Extending Waze concepts can control or suggest speed adjustments to account for traffic congestion and update a GPS map with real-time updates on lane closure and highway construction activity. V2X in some form is essential to support over-the-air (OTA) software updates for the now-extensive range of software-driven systems in your car, from map updates to bug fixes to security updates and more.

V2X safety messages can be made to include a Basic Safety Message (BSM) in U.S. standards or Cooperative Awareness Messages (CAM) and a Decentralized Environmental Notification Messages (DENM) in a European Union (EU) standard.

BSM contains position, velocity, and acceleration information and is transmitted up to 10 times per second. This message system also enables the vehicle receiving unit to predict collisions and warn the driver.

V2X Message Protection and Security

V2X and V2I communication needs strong security to protect messages against fraudulent or misleading use that might lead to safety and privacy issues. Another method for security is signed messages using Public Key Certificates that are used to prevent unauthorized parties from interfering with the exchange of data and to pseudonymize the communication securely.

Public key infrastructure (PKI) consists of policies and procedures used to create, manage, use, save and revoke digital security certificates. PKI allows for the transfer of electronic information securely and goes beyond just passwords as authentication with a requirement of more rigorous identity confirmation.

Security and Privacy in V2X Communication

Intention or trajectory sharing will enhance autonomous driving by providing a higher level of predictability and traffic efficiency in advanced path planning.

5G New Radio (5G NR) will enable intent sharing with:

  • High throughput: 5G can provide the required high data rates needed, such as greater than 100Mbps in a 1km stretch.
  • High reliability: 5G can ensure that trajectory information will be shared accurately and promptly.
  • Low latency: 5G low latency capabilities will allow trajectory information to be shared within a few milliseconds.

C-V2X Performance in Crowded Highway Situations

The 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) ran V2X performance and functional tests in a test report entitled V2X Functional and Performance Test Report, in which C-V2X technology was tested for a highly congested scenario in a laboratory setting. Even in this congested scenario, C-V2X latency remained bounded by the 100ms latency budget configured for that scenario, which is a very positive result.

In a series of laboratory and field tests, it is observed that:

  • C-V2X communication in 20MHz CH183 has the same reliability performance (Packet Reception Ratio vs. distance) as the identical BSM-like message transmission in 10MHz CH184.
  • Impact of C-V2X high load transmissions in CH183 on DSRC basic safety transmissions in CH172 is negligible up to a 1.4-km range in Line of Sight (LOS) conditions.
  • Impact of C-V2X high load transmissions in CH183 on V2I and I2V transmissions in CH178 is negligible up to a 1.4-km range in LOS conditions.
  • Impact of C-V2X high load transmissions in CH183 on V2I and I2V transmissions in CH180 is negligible up to 1km in LOS conditions.

Ford and Qualcomm performed additional field tests supporting the latest 5GAA petition for waiver with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for C-V2X deployment. Those tests by Ford showed C-V2X with a very acceptable performance, especially in LOS conditions.

According to the 5GAA website, C-V2X was deemed ready for deployment with commercial chipsets and was also seen as ready to start in-vehicle deployment in the 2020/2021 timeframe globally. The 5GAA will partner with the relevant Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs) to drive the requirements of 5G V2X to create a successful V2X ecosystem.


The FCC effectively changed the vehicle communications Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) market in the U.S. via the restructuring of the 5.9GHz band.

The automotive industry must go forward on a narrowed spectrum with C-V2X technology instead of the widely used Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC). The changes announced pave the way for progress, eliminating the uncertainty caused by competing technologies.

V2X and 5G are fast-becoming integral technologies for automakers as it endeavors to commercialize fully autonomous vehicle technology in the years ahead. After the launch of C-V2X vehicles in China in 2021, Ford anticipates bringing the technology to all of its vehicles sold in the U.S. beginning in 2022. The 5GAA will partner with the relevant SDOs to drive the requirements of 5G V2X to create a successful V2X ecosystem.

IHS Markit, a financial services company, posted an analysis on 5G, C-V2X, and automotive connectivity for the 2021 year on its website in January 2021.

According to a news release about a C-V2X study published on Market Watch:

"The V2I communication segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 12% over the forecast period due to the increase in the adoption of smart traffic infrastructure. The smart traffic infrastructure involves smart traffic signals and smart surveillance cameras, which communicate with vehicles to provide information about traffic and road conditions."

More exciting vehicle advances are coming, which will significantly change the way we drive our vehicles for the better.

Photo/imagery credits (in order of display)
Akarat Phasura - stock.adobe.com, kinwun - stock.adobe.com, metamorworks - stock.adobe.com, Yury Gubin - stock.adobe.com

The Tech Between Us Podcast
Intelligent Transportation Systems

Sponsor: Intel, Molex

Full Podcast (49:26mins)

Introduction (00:57mins)

Condensed Podcast (09:08mins)

Join us in our technology conversation with Maxime Flament of the 5G Automotive Association as we discuss Intelligent Transportation Systems and the V2X movement.

View more from Intel »

View more from Molex »

Podcast Host

Raymond Yin

Director of Technical Content, Mouser Electronics

Podcast Guest

Maxime Flament

5G Automotive Association

The Connected Car Addresses Congestion and Safety Challenges

By Stephen Keeping, Mouser Electronics

Sponsor: TDK, Microchip

We're devoting an increasing proportion of our lives to the road. The average American spends over eight hours per week behind the wheel.

Worse yet, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, U.S. commuters waste 54 hours per year stuck in traffic. In Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, the situation is even more serious with drivers squandering 102 and 119 hours, respectively, staring at the license plate of the stationary vehicle in front of them.

The problems don’t stop with lost man-hours. Traffic congestion burns fuel (3.3 billion gallons per year in the U.S.) and adds to atmospheric greenhouse gases. Wasted fuel and lost work time cost the U.S. an estimated $166 billion according to the 2019 report.

Automotive makers work continuously to address these challenges. Cars have become comfortable cocoons due to sound insulation, supportive seats, and air conditioning; accidents are more survivable thanks to innovations such as anti-lock brakes, airbags, and crumple zones, and drivers are able to ease the tedium of congestion by accessing in-car entertainment ranging from digital-radio broadcasts to music from their smartphone and backseat video from in-seat DVD players.

View of a busy highway full of cars. The road passes by rows of lush trees.
Figure 1: Traffic congestion cost the U.S. nearly $133 billion in wasted fuel and lost work hours in 2019 (FrimuFilms / shutterstock.com).

And in recent years, in-car systems have been supplemented by Internet connectivity. That connectivity has allowed drivers and passengers to remain "plugged in" to the business and social networks they take for granted when at home or in the office, turning hours stuck in traffic into productive time.

But what if Internet connectivity could be taken a stage further? What if the most modest temperature sensor all the way up to the engine management unit and satellite navigation could send and receive information via the Internet without the involvement of the driver or passengers? Such connectivity could further enhance the safety and comfort of a vehicle’s occupants while addressing many of the congestion challenges of modern transportation. This vehicle of the future already has a name, the "connected car."

Converging Internet and Mobile Networks

The IoT differs from the traditional Internet by replacing the main source of data input (humans) with computers, machines and sensors. Such a development ensures the physical world is intimately interfaced to the Internet without the need for human intervention.

The implications of this are huge, because unlike humans—who make mistakes and get bored—systems dedicated to the job of gathering data perform their designated role without error or fatigue. Kevin Ashton, the man credited with coining the phrase the “Internet of Things” back in 1999, noted: "If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from u—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost."

Networking company Cisco Systems, among others, describes the IoT as the convergence of Internet Protocol (IP) networks—millions of computers and billions of other IP devices in the home and office—with mobile networks—millions of voice communications and billions of data packets from Internet-capable mobiles—to form a network of a trillion end points, using a common infrastructure, ranging from simple sensors to machines to more complex objects such as cars.

The phrase "reduce waste, loss and cost," is something of a mantra to the automotive sector, so, together with silicon vendors that supply the industry, auto manufacturers are among the most enthusiastic proponents of the IoT. One key driver for this enthusiasm is the opportunity to introduce cost-saving measures such as performing "over-the-air" updates to the car’s software – particularly in key components such as the engine management unit (EMU).

This could allow critical modifications to be made without the cost of recalling potentially millions of vehicles. But whatever the motivation for the automotive companies, the addition of IoT to the car will also be a boon for consumers.

The Rise of Intelligent Transport Systems

Application of the IoT will extend to all aspects of the car. For example, the mechanics of the vehicle, external infrastructure supporting traffic flow, and the comfort and entertainment of the occupants would all be somehow connected. The connected car will be able to benefit from intelligent transport systems (ITS) combining inter- and intra-vehicular communication, smart traffic control, electronic toll collection, vehicle control, as well as safety and road assistance, among many others.

An illustration showing different types of transportation communication including adaptive cruise control, fleet management, trip planning, safety systems, terrestrial broadcast and more
Figure 2: The connected car will benefit from intelligent transport systems. (Source: ETSI)

Cars connected to the IoT will be able to supply information about location, speed and direction, allowing powerful servers to analyze traffic flow, predict bottlenecks, and manage congestion when jams do occur. Inside the car, drivers will be warned about impending problems and advised of alternative clear routes. Outside the vehicle, congestion-easing techniques directed by these computers will include variable speed limits, smart traffic lights and signage, tidal road flow, and variable toll pricing. Some of these systems already exist by measuring traffic flow using roadside monitoring or buried-inductive loops, but information coming directly from connected cars will offer more precise information, in real time, and across a wider catchment. Data flows into the connected car for a better driving experience. Someday "road rage" may be a thing of the past as the next generation of connected car services leverages dynamic data to provide intelligence that can avoid real-time traffic snarls, quickly find open parking spaces, as well as provide the already familiar GPS and search experiences to find charging stations or compare prices on nearby fuel sources. INRIX, a Seattle-based company, creates tools for the connected car, including one that helps drivers find on- and off-street parking, as well as providing real-time and predictive traffic data from as many as 2 billion data points per day, applied to in-car traffic services.

The connected car enables direct communication with the driver, offering advice on how to avoid the areas of congestion. And in the future, the worst cases of congestion could be managed by allowing remote computers to take control of a vehicle and manage its progress through the traffic jam before handing control back over to the driver when things calm down.

But while solving congestion is undoubtedly beneficial to both drivers' sanity and the country's economy, safety remains the number one priority for car makers and traffic authorities. So it is not surprising that these organizations are looking for ways to leverage the IoT to make driving safer.

Avoiding accidents in the first place is the best way to eliminate injuries and fatalities, and engineers are working on systems that take the concept of congestion avoidance a step further by lowering the risk of collisions using real-time information about how well others on the road are driving. Drivers could be assigned a score and the system would then warn of poor performers much like a GPS system today warns driver of red light cameras with a gentle electronic chime.

Other IoT-enabled accident avoidance schemes may use ITS to analyze the data from connected cars to ensure that two vehicles don’t end up on the same piece of highway at the same time. One example of this technology comes from Adelaide, an Australia-based Cohda Wireless. Cohda’s system uses a GPS platform to provide data about the vehicle’s progress. If danger is identified, the driver is immediately warned to take steps to avoid an accident. Cohda Wireless says its technology extends driver awareness beyond buildings that block the driver's view, enabling drivers to be aware of all threats.

An illustration showing a car at a stop sign and another car driving down the facing road and a red curved line showing communication between both
Figure 3: Cohda Wireless' ITS warns drivers of potential hazards that are out of sight. (Source: Cohda Wireless)

The European Union (EU) is taking a leading role in moving the connected car from concept to reality. Two European standards organizations, European Telecommunication Standard Institute (ETSI) and the European Committee for Standardization (Comité Européen de Normalisation or CEN) have created a set of standards to help make connected cars a reality. These standards ensure that vehicles made by different manufacturers will be able to communicate with each other.

The EU states that all new cars are expected to have built-in technology that will allow them to automatically call emergency services if the worst happens. If the car’s occupants are not conscious, the technology will provide the vehicle’s location to emergency services. The system will also convey vital information to the emergency services such as the make and model of vehicle, crash location, fuel type used, and even the number of seat belts fastened at the time of the crash.

Inside the Connected Car

At first glance, the inside of tomorrow's connected car won’t appear too different from today’s vehicles. A large human machine interface (HMI) will likely dominate the dash in a similar way to those in contemporary vehicles. And because a modern car already contains a lot of networked electronics with proven reliability (and benefitting from commodity pricing beloved of a sector that looks to continually drive down costs), much of that technology will remain yet be adapted to suit connection to the IoT.

However, the adaptation required could be considerable. Modern vehicles encompass sophisticated networks formed from wired and wireless elements. Electronic control units (ECUs)––that power everything from dashboard instruments to safety features and powertrain components to in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems––form a key part of these networks. The number of these devices in the average car has doubled in the past ten years, and many vehicles now incorporate more than 125 separate ECUs. Today’s cars also boast a swarm of sensors monitoring everything from road conditions, distance to the vehicle in front, vehicle speed and acceleration, and location (via GPS) to internal temperature, seatbelt tension, and driver alertness.

Wireless connectivity such as Bluetooth® technology is typically used to connect smartphones and tablets to the vehicle;s dash-mounted HMI. Most of the other sensors in the contemporary car, like those monitoring powertrain, chassis, body, control and safety use wired Controller Area Network (CAN) or Local Interconnect Network (LIN) buses. The instrument cluster is also connected via a CAN bus to the network. All network connections terminate at a central gateway that supervises functions and can be accessed from an external computer via an on-board diagnostics data link connector (OBD DLC).

Changes to this conventional layout in an IoT-enabled vehicle are likely to include the use of Ethernet to link the various systems replacing CAN and LIN buses (particularly as Ethernet has recently been embraced by several automotive OEMs for vehicle infotainment buses) and the introduction of mini-hubs to aggregate groups of sensors or ECUs to simplify the network.

Everything will still connect back to a central-vehicle gateway that will retain the OBD DLC, but vehicles will also incorporate a telemetry module to look after the wireless connectivity to the Internet. While the car itself may form a "thing" on the Internet, the various systems and subsystems will generate the information that will be of most value to the IoT. A good way to consider a vehicle's IoT connectivity is to consider the car as a large hub to which all the systems and subsystems of the vehicle link in order to send and receive information to the wider network.

Today, the computational power and intelligence required to take the raw data from systems in the car, send it in a form that's useful to external servers, and then receive and disseminate information coming back, resides in the central vehicle gateway. But in the near future automotive sensors could include technology that will allow communication to servers in the cloud directly, using the gateway simply as a "dumb" forwarding device. Software such as Bluetooth v5.1 already includes foundation technology that will lead to wireless sensors with their own IP addresses communicating directly with remote devices on the Internet.

the inside of a car showing a hand on the wheel and the speed of 50, low fuel and a projection of the road on the window
Figure 4: The Connected Car is a smartphone on wheels, with access to search functions and real-time data such as traffic accidents or construction (ambrozinio / shutterstock.com).


The IoT promises to improve the driving experience and save lives. However, in order to fully unlock this potential, a wide range of barriers need to be addressed, including security, safety, regulation, lack of cross-industry standards, widely varying industry dynamics and life cycles, and limited initial addressable market sizes. So while the future for the connected car is undoubtedly bright, the highway to its introduction is covered with speed bumps.  

Photo/imagery credits (in order of display)
Fishman64 / shutterstock.com, jamesteohart / shutterstock.com, Zapp2Photo / shutterstock.com

Why Software-Defined Vehicles Transform the Car from a Tool to an Experience

Sponsor: Amphenol ICC

a holographic representation of a car's wireframe

BLOG: Why Software-Defined Vehicles Transform the Car from a Tool to an Experience

Instead of representing a snapshot of hardware-centric automotive technology, software-focused vehicles can deliver more driver autonomy, better safety, and security features and will accept dynamic updates to maintain a leading-edge technology and infotainment package.

Read more »

Creating Safer Roads for Autonomous Vehicles

By Mark Patrick for Mouser Electronics

Sponsor: ST Microelectronics, TE Connectivity

Self-driving vehicles are fuelling significant and exciting technological development: Advanced sensors and neural networks are two examples. But the technology needed to enable autonomous driving goes beyond just the vehicles: The roads they operate on can also benefit from technological advancements to become safer and easier to use for such vehicles. This is an area that’s gaining increased prominence, though not from all stakeholders.

In the USA, for example, the Department of Transportation has published policy guidance for self-driving cars. And while it tells car makers what to do to ensure the safety of their vehicles, it doesn’t look at what road-builders or drivers need to do. This narrow focus is understandable: Semi-autonomous cars still represent a tiny fraction of all vehicles, and even the boldest forecasts don’t envisage this balance shifting significantly for some time.

This leads us to an important question: Is it right to spend money on road changes that benefit a minority of users? And could such alterations actually make the roads less safe for human road users?

While this debate goes on, those designing and building autonomous vehicles are actively pushing for enhancements to the road networks. And certain governments are responding.

Lane Markings Need to Improve

Vehicle manufacturers suggest that a straightforward improvement would be to mark roads correctly, in accordance with governments' own standards.

Tesla's CEO Elon Musk showed reporters two sets of overlapping lane markings on a freeway near Los Angeles. The duplicate lines could cause Tesla's autonomous cars to track the wrong markings and consequently move out of their lanes. The only way Tesla could make the road safe for its cars was to map every lane in advance, meaning the cars weren’t exclusively reliant on their sensors. "We really need better lane markings. This is crazy," Musk said. He has given funding to a group lobbying for enhancements.

a black roaded with faded yellow markings stating Bus Stop
Figure 1: A bus stop and cycle lane markings near the war memorial in BOSTON UK, August 2020: (Source: Tony Dunn / Shutterstock.com)

Consistency of Road Signs and Signals

An associated headache for self-driving vehicle makers is the lack of consistency when it comes to signs, signals, and markings: Cross a state or national boundary and the design and format of these key elements can change.

Smarter Roads

Beyond simply improving conventional road elements, we're also seeing a shift towards smart solutions. A team of government researchers recently observed: "For autonomous vehicles to work well, roads, road signs, and signals may need to be mapped or made intelligent."

Vehicle-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Communication

The push to create smarter roadways dovetails neatly with proposed communication standards, such as automotive LTE and Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC). These technologies enable Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communication, both part of the broader vehicle-to-any-asset (V2X) umbrella. V2V systems are similar to Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) used in aviation to alert car drivers to potential collisions. Following a campaign lasting over 10 years, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seems close to gaining political approval for mandatory transponder-based V2V systems.

An illustrative of both an autonomous bus and car with wifi signals passing between
Figure 2: V2V communication will be integral to create safe roadways with autonomous cars (Source: Scharfsinn - shutterstock.com).

V2V and V2I technology were originally envisaged as a helper for human drivers. But both can also be extremely valuable for self-driving vehicles, complementing sensor data and sharing this with other road users to build up a better understanding of conditions. At Baidu in China, researchers have suggested further benefits. For example, the hand signals made by a police officer to a stream of oncoming traffic can’t be interpreted by a self-driving car; the human driver would need to take control to follow the instructions. Baidu has outlined how V2X technology could help overcome this issue, including by providing traffic control officers with beacons that send instructions to the traffic via V2I networks.

What Does This Mean for Human Drivers?

The push to alter roads for the benefit of autonomous vehicles could result in controversial results: We could end up with roads optimized for self-driving vehicles but that are less safe for human drivers. Take this a step further, and you could have a situation where human drivers are forbidden from driving on certain roads.

Here’s why: Autonomous vehicles have greater awareness of their surroundings than human drivers and can react faster. Consequently, roads for such vehicles could be narrower, thereby being less expensive to build and releasing valuable real estate. Cars could also travel faster and with less space between them, while V2I technology could eradicate the need for road signage and traffic lights. But all of this would rely on there being no human drivers, pedestrians, or other road users in the mix.

Gradual Changes

Let's come back to our question of whether changing our roads for the benefit of self-driving vehicles is the right thing to do. This is likely to remain a contentious issue, to which we may never get a definitive answer. More likely is that smaller-scale alterations will happen bit by bit, without specific intervention from governments.

Imagine for a moment the year 2035. One in four vehicles now has sophisticated self-driving features. When reviewing collision data, urban transport planners realize that a large proportion of accidents at a busy junction involve autonomous vehicles. On further investigation, it turns out that this is because the cars' sensors can't detect a traffic light when the sun shines at a certain angle. The authorities add a second set of lights (or move the first), which immediately cuts the collision rate. What they have done is adjust the roads for the benefit of autonomous vehicles.

What about all the other road users?  

Photo/imagery credits (in order of display)
Yury Gubin - stock.adobe.com

VX2 Defined

illustrated green car with wifi signals


The connected communications of a vehicle

V2D Vehicle-to-Device

  • Detects presence of people with smart devices
  • Sends safety alerts to devices & vehicles
a car transmitting signals to a bicycle and motorcycle
a car transmitting signals to suv

V2V Vehicle-to-Vehicle

  • Locates surrounding vehicles
  • Provides hazard/collision alerts
  • Evaluates traffic conditions
a car detecting a two cars that have been a crash

V2I Vehicle-to-Infrastructure

  • Monitors traffic lights/environment
  • Delivers emergency information
  • Notifies of nearby construction
  • Conveys speed limit
a car detecting a speed limit sign and a stop light

V2N Vehicle-to-Network

  • Allows GPS monitoring
  • Informs mapping systems
  • Supplies infotainment
a car receiving information from a satellite and other cars hooking up to electronic chargers
  • Automates vehicle charging
  • Assesses energy status
a vehicle near an electronic charger

FAKRA Automotive Connectors

Enable next-generation vehicle communication

  • Color coded and mechanically keyed with 14 unique key codes
Jack Plug RAL Color Application
A Line drawing of the A Jack Line drawing of the A Plug 9005 a black circle Jet Black DAB/AM-FM
B Line drawing of the B Jack Line drawing of the B Plug 9001 a cream colored circle Cream DAB with Power / AM-FM
C Line drawing of the C Jack Line drawing of the C Plug 5005 a blue colored circle Signal Blue GPS
D Line drawing of the D Jack Line drawing of the D Plug 4004 a red colored circle Claret Violet Cellular Phone
E Line drawing of the E Jack Line drawing of the E Plug 6002 a green colored circle Leaf Green TV / SDARS Terrestrial
F Line drawing of the F Jack Line drawing of the F Plug 8001 a brown colored circle Nut Brown TV / SDARS Terrestrial / Camera
G Line drawing of the G Jack Line drawing of the G Plug 7031 a grey colored circle Blue Grey SDARS Terrestrial
H Line drawing of the H Jack Line drawing of the H Plug 4003 a purple colored circle Heather Violet GPS Navigation
I Line drawing of the I Jack Line drawing of the I Plug 1001 a light brown colored circle Beige Bluetooth / VPM
K Line drawing of the K Jack Line drawing of the K Plug 1027 a medium brown colored circle Curry SDARS Satellite AM-FM
L Line drawing of the L Jack Line drawing of the L Plug 3002 a bright red colored circle Carmine Red VPM
M Line drawing of the M Jack Line drawing of the M Plug 2003 a light orange colored circle Pastel Orange RKE / TPMS
N Line drawing of the N Jack Line drawing of the N Plug 6019 a light green colored circle Pastel Green DSRC / VPM
Z Line drawing of the Z Jack Line drawing of the Z Plug 5021 a light orange colored circle Water Blue Universal (Neutral) Code

Swipe right to view entire chart

  • Straight and right-angle cable connectors for all common automotive coaxial cable types
  • Robust plastic housing with audible locking mechanism
white line drawing of a FAAKRA connector
white line drawing of 2 FAAKRA connectors
  • Vertical and right-angle PCB options
  • Multiport configurations available for both PCB and cable mount versions
  • Preconfigured cable assemblies with no additional tooling required
  • Sealed units available
white line drawing of a FAAKRA connector

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