One of the first uses of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and one of its largest categories is vehicle connectivity. M2M has been used for years to track trucks and trailers, fleet vehicles, and road construction vehicles. An embedded GPS receiver provides their location, and a cellular modem connects them to a monitoring system. Some trucks have also used Wi-Fi to connect at truck stops or other available hot spots. These systems not only locate vehicles but also can track usage, speed, and other critical factors, such as driver hours and refrigerated truck temperatures.
Today’s cars include more connectivity. In-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems in most new cars and trucks include satellite/AM/FM/HD radio, CD players, iPod and iPhone music, Bluetooth hands-free systems, and navigation systems. Manufacturers are working to expand their functionality and connectivity in vehicles, including lower priced cars. Applications will include natural voice recognition and touchscreen technology, both of which improve the driver experience. Also, vehicle hot spots will allow multiple in-vehicle Wi-Fi devices to connect to the Internet via an LTE cellular link. Many will emulate GM’s long popular OnStar system.
Other connectivity opportunities include increased wireless access to vehicle electronic control units (ECUs), the processors that monitor and control all engine and other vehicle systems. Dealers will be able to access the ECU for wireless firmware over-the-air (FOTA) updates.
Another forthcoming feature is Wi-Fi or cellular access to the vehicle’s OBD II port. The on-board diagnostic (version II) port is a 16-pin connector that has been installed in all new vehicles since 1996 to provide signals to diagnose engine and other systems status to troubleshoot or collect data about vehicle usage.
The ODB II port is under the dash near the steering wheel. The insurance industry is beginning to use plug-in data logging modules to collect vehicle usage data like speed, acceleration, braking, and other parameters to determine insurance rates. Wireless ODB II is next.
Perhaps the biggest potential vehicle connectivity feature will be the collision avoidance systems proposed by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA mandates vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications that will allow cars to communicate with one another autonomously to avoid collisions. All cars and light trucks would have a GPS receiver to report their location and a transceiver to talk to nearby vehicles within a range of about 300 meters.
Each vehicle would transmit its location, speed, direction, and other relevant information to surrounding vehicles. The in-vehicle computer would then determine and predict the potential of a collision and issue warnings to drivers so they can take action. Systems may even implement automatic braking to avoid a collision. NHTSA tests indicate that up to 80% of non-alcohol-related collisions could be averted.
At the heart of V2V is the dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology. DSRC is a Wi-Fi-like system that uses 75 MHz in the 5.9-GHz band. It is part of the government’s proposed Intelligent Transportation System (ILS). The DSRC standard is designated IEEE 802.11p and uses seven 10-MHz channels in the 5.835- to 5.925-GHz range. Associated with it are the higher-layer protocols called IEEE 1609 or Wireless Access in Vehicular Environments (WAVE).
DSRC will provide the proposed V2V, but it also can be used for many other applications such as communicating with nearby infrastructure (vehicle-to-infrastructure, or V2I; or V2X when used with V2V). Vehicles can receive reports from curbside nodes transmitting traffic and weather conditions or delivering other important public service information.