Auto Electronics

1-2-3 RED LIGHT!

Automakers, suppliers and government agencies have joined forces to develop hardware and software for vehicle infrastructure integration technology with the potential to relieve traffic congestion, reduce emissions, and save lives. Testing is now under way. Will VII technology work, and can the obstacles to mass deployment be overcome?

Automakers and suppliers are cautiously optimistic that U.S. highways, where upward of 40,000 people die annually, could be significantly safer in the not too far distant future. With prototype hardware and software in test vehicles and along roadsides in southeast Michigan, so-called proof-of-concept (PoC) testing is under way for vehicle infrastructure integration (VII) technology.

The VII technology being tested was developed under the aegis of the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Consortium (VIIC), the members of which include BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen. The VIIC has assumed responsibility for developing a standards-based communications system to support vehicle-to-infrastructure (V-to-I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V-to-V) communication. The objectives of V-to-I and V-to-V communication are safety, mobility and potential new transportation services.

“Making it possible for vehicles to communicate with each other on a network, and also to communicate with the infrastructure, is a breakthrough, said Richard Wallace, senior project manager at the Center for Automotive Research. “And once the communications link has been created, it can be used for real-time traffic, which would improve travel times and reduce emissions.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is funding the VII project. The State of Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Road Commission for Oakland County are participating in the PoC phase.

If deployed nationwide, the VII initiative will involve the build-out of networks, digital radios, pods and communications systems on major U.S. roadways. Data transmitted from the roadside to vehicles could, for example, warn a driver that it is not safe to enter an intersection. Vehicles could serve as data collectors and anonymously transmit traffic and road condition information from every major road within the transportation network. Such information would provide transportation agencies with the information needed to implement active strategies to relieve traffic congestion, thereby reducing emissions.

Key to the initiative in the United States was a decision by the Federal Communications Commission In 1999 to allocate the 5.850 GHz-5.925 GHz band for dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) uses as part of the Department of Transportation's intelligent transportation systems (ITS) program. DSRC applications include traffic light control, traffic monitoring, travelers' alerts, automatic toll collection, traffic congestion detection, emergency vehicle signal pre-emption of traffic lights, and electronic inspection of trucks through data transmissions with roadside inspection facilities.

VII technology consists of onboard equipment (OBE) installed in test vehicles, roadside equipment (RSE) along highways and at intersections, and a back-end server system. OBEs and RSEs will communicate wirelessly with each other via DSRC, and RSEs will communicate with servers via the Internet.

The OBE, which automakers and suppliers have been working on for the past two years, includes an OSGi/Java-based application host platform, vehicle interface, human/machine interface (HMI), and global positioning services, plus an embedded DSRC radio, wireless access in vehicle environments (WAVE) stack, and Java communications API.

Technocom's multiband configurable networking unit (MCNU) can serve as an RSE broadband wireless router or a multiband wireless access point, and can also serve as a mobile station integrated with the OBE. The MCNU's integrated wireless radios support IEEE 802.11p standards as well as the IEEE 1609 DSRC/WAVE features for vehicle security, safety and mobility applications.

Motorola Wi4 fixed point-to-point (PTP) 400 series link systems are used to provide communication from the RSEs to the backhaul server. Links consist of an outdoor unit (ODU), a powered indoor unit (PIDU) and mounting equipment. Wireless Ethernet bridges contain embedded web servers to locally or remotely manage links.

The VIIC to date has announced the awarding of contracts to ProSyst Software, Wind River Systems and Parvus Corporation. ProSyst will supply OBE middleware, including its mBedded Server (mBS) Professional Edition, mBS Telematics Extension, and mPower Remote Manager as the OSGi platform. Wind River will provide its general-purpose platform, Linux Edition, for OBE development and also will configure an emulation platform. The VIIC selected Parvus Corporation's Linux-based DuraCOR 1100 computer for onboard vehicle processing, positioning and communications.

Numerous other vendors are participating in the VII effort. TechnoCom, Delphi and NAVTEQ recently demonstrated the ability to download large files to a vehicle using 5.9 GHz DSRC. In the demo, a driver used an in-vehicle application to initiate a request for directions to a preselected location. The request was transmitted from the vehicle via a wireless node to the TechnoCom RSE receiving node. From the RSE, the request was sent to an application running on the navigation server. The server generated a map and turn-by-turn directions, which were transmitted to the driver in the vehicle.

Delphi is focused on in-vehicle hardware and software. Its applications are included in the PoC testing currently under way, according to Gary Streelman, manager of advanced programs in Delphi's Electronics & Safety Division.

VII technology is at an early stage, with DSRC chips still in development. Streelman said those chips are likely to come from vendors that currently supply Wi-Fi chips, such as Atheros, NEC and Renesas. “The difference between Wi-Fi and DSRC is mainly in the software,” he noted. “Wi-Fi is designed for stationary applications and DSRC is for mobile vehicle applications, where connections have to be made very quickly.”

Streelman said the PoC will involve test vehicles and approximately 50 roadside units. “Several hundred test scenarios will be run to validate and understand performance,” he explained. Sensor data on speed and road conditions will be collected anonymously from test vehicles as they approach roadside radios. Tests will be conducted in controlled environments (test tracks) and at real world intersections. Data will be uploaded to a back-end server system where it will be analyzed. The OBE-to-RSE DSRC links will also be tested.

As planners envision VII, Streelman noted, vehicles will “talk” to intersections to determine the status of those intersections, i.e., if the way is clear. A driver will receive an alert if the vehicle is traveling too fast, or is in the wrong lane, or if there is congestion ahead. “Intelligent transportation systems are intended to aid mobility,” he said. “A driver may decide to exit earlier from a highway and take an alternate route.” Drivers will also be alerted when extra caution is needed, whether as a result of traffic conditions, inclement weather, or other factors.

VII researchers stress that at this stage of the technology's evolution they are concerned with warning drivers of potential danger rather than taking control of the vehicle. But suppliers like Bosch are working to link active and passive safety systems with driver assistance systems and driver information systems. Bosch's combined active and passive safety (CAPS) system includes predictive sensors that help drivers identify potentially dangerous situations at an earlier stage.

Continental Automotive Systems said its research and development effort, which includes an Active Passive Integration Approach (APIA) and Telematics project, is aligned with the VII initiative. Continental expects to integrate DSRC technology into APIA. Continental's Car-to-X project is aligned with the European Car2Car Communications Consortium.

Chrysler executive David Henry, who is currently president of the VIIC, said proof of concept testing will continue until the spring of 2008, after which project participants will conduct a viability assessment. “If we're successful at that milestone, we'll continue to a field operations test. That testing will continue for two years, and in 2010 we will make a deployment decision.”

The deployment decision reflects a “chicken or egg” dilemma. Automakers don't want to install OBE until the infrastructure is ready, nor does USDOT want to invest billions of dollars in RSE build-out if vehicles can't use the technology. “We need a collective decision to begin infrastructure and product rollout,” Henry said. “Equipment for basic safety and mobility won't be optional. It won't work unless all vehicles are equipped.” Preliminary plans call for RSE installation at major intersections and roadways. Infrastructure deployment is estimated to take somewhere between three and 10 years at a ballpark cost of $4 to 6 billion.

An incentive for automakers is that once safety and mobility objectives have been met, DSRC communication can be used for convenience services.

DSRC can be used for V-to-V (or V2V) as well as V-to-I communication. General Motors earlier this year demonstrated V2V technology in which one vehicle can detect the position and movement of other vehicles up to a quarter-mile away. Leveraging GM's OnStar and StabiliTrak, V2V can warn the driver with chimes, visual icons and seat vibrations when vehicles ahead are stopped, traveling much slower, or brake hard, so the driver can brake or change lanes as needed. It also alerts the driver to vehicles in blind spots with a steady amber light in the side mirror; and if the turn signal is activated, a flashing amber light and a seat vibration notifies the driver of a potentially dangerous situation.

Larry Burns, GM vice president, Research & Development and Strategic Planning, said vehicles equipped with the technology can anticipate and react to changing driving situations. V2V technology has the potential to reduce pileups on congested roads caused by a chain reaction of rear-end collisions. The trailing vehicle will warn the driver and brake automatically if the driver doesn't heed those warnings and there is danger of a rear-end collision.

Burns said blind intersections without traffic lights can be particularly dangerous because drivers do not see approaching vehicles until it is too late. Vehicles equipped with V2V can communicate before they are within the driver's range of vision so the driver has additional time to react.

“Today, vehicles can be equipped with multiple safety sensors, including a long-range scanning sensor for adaptive cruise control, forward vision sensors for object detection, midrange blind-spot detection sensors, and long-range lane change assist sensors,” Burns said. He added that V2V can replace all of those sensors with one advisory sensor that will provide all-around, instantaneous traffic intelligence.

“With OnStar and StabiliTrak both standard, we just need to add a computer chip and an inexpensive antenna, and cars can talk to each other every 20 milliseconds,” Burns noted. “With GPS data from OnStar and steering input and wheel speed from StabiliTrak, we can calculate within a meter, how close cars are to each other — and where the cars are going to be in the next 20 milliseconds. It's like a sixth sense in a car.”

Since GPS technology effectively “knows” where a car is at all times, and since it also knows the speed limits on the roads on which the car travels, automakers could prevent speeding by putting a device on each vehicle that prohibits it from exceeding the speed limit. As an alternative, authorities could issue speeding tickets automatically whenever a driver exceeds a speed limit. “It's an inexpensive way to collect revenue,” Burns suggested. He estimated that by 2015, all of the technology building blocks needed for that scenario will be in place. “Then the world will ask what we're going to do with it,” he said. “This technology can be an enormous enabler of roadway throughput, with increased efficiency and reduced emissions.”


John Day writes regularly about automotive electronics and other technology topics. He holds a BA degree in liberal arts from Northeastern University and an MA in journalism from Penn State. He is based in Michigan and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].



Car2Car Communication Consortium (

Chrysler (

Connected Vehicle Proving Center (

Continental Automotive Systems (

Delphi (

Ford (

General Motors (

Honda (

Michigan Department of Transportation (

Motorola (


Nissan (

ProSyst Software GmbH (

Road Commission for Oakland County (

Toyota (

U.S. Department of Transportattion (

Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Consortium (

Volkswagen (

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