This article is part of an on-going series covering various aspects of Autonomous Vehicle technologies, adoption trends and impacts on consumers. Previous article in this series have focused on:
- Overview of Advances in Autonomous Driving Technology
- Assuring Safety in Autonomous Vehicles
- Advanced Technologies that Transform the “Rider Experience”
- The Road to Fully Autonomous Vehicles Runs Through Driver Assist Technologies
In this article, we widen the perspective to look at how autonomous vehicles will interact with parallel developments in intelligent infrastructure, sometimes referred to as “smart streets”. We also explore how the increased demands for Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) connectivity will impact the design of on-board vehicle systems.
Evolution of Smart Infrastructure and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Connectivity
Since the earliest beginnings of automobile usage, the evolution of infrastructure has played an intrinsically related role. At the start of the 20th century, key innovations included basic things that we take for granted today, such as paved roads and highways, directional signs, bridges and more.
With increasing numbers of cars leading to potential traffic congestion and safety issues, subsequent innovations in infrastructure included stop signs, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, and so forth. As private vehicles and commercial transport became ubiquitous, governments invested heavily in advanced infrastructure engineering programs that led to superhighways, improved traffic flow, and increased focus on safety-related innovations.
For today’s drivers, these infrastructure advances have created a world that is packed full of information, which we are constantly monitoring, processing, and reacting to – often without paying much conscious attention. It has become second nature to handle the majority of routine driving decisions without thinking about them and to pull the conscious mind into the process only to deal with exceptions, such as being cut off by another driver or avoiding a jaywalking pedestrian.
The move toward autonomous vehicles over recent years is shifting these monitoring and decision-making processes to automated sensors and response mechanisms, handled by the vehicles themselves. As we have addressed in other articles in this series, advanced sensors and real-time processing by electronic control units (ECUs) enable autonomous vehicles to “see” the surrounding environments and to either assist drivers with handling the flood of information or to automatically handle decision-making without driver intervention.
In addition to off-loading drivers from the existing flows of visual information, automated vehicles are increasingly interfacing with the evolving smart infrastructures, as well as other vehicles, to gather unseen information and react at speeds that go far beyond what a human can handle.
This trend toward cars that can “talk with” the surrounding infrastructure is radically changing the technology landscape. Connected and automated vehicles (sometimes called CAVs) have the potential for dramatically improving both safety and the overall efficiency of transportation systems. Specific aspects of these transformational trends are referred to as Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I), Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and collectively as V2X communications. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has predicted that the combination of V2V and V2I technologies could potentially prevent 400,000 to 600,000 crashes, avoid 190,000 to 270,000 injuries, and save 780 to 1,080 lives each year.
Enabling Technologies and Design Challenges
V2X implementation relies heavily on wireless technologies. A concept known as Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) has been developed specifically for automotive platforms to support both V2V and V2I requirements. As originally defined by IEEE 802.11p, new next-generation DSCR specification is being developed (IEEE 802.11bd) and combined with new Cellular V2X (C-V2X) technologies supported by 3GPP (release 16, 5G-NR) for full V2X enablement.
Regardless of the specific standards used, the over-arching challenges associated with V2X implementation are centered around the demands of high bandwidth, low latency and highly reliable wireless connectivity. Both ends of the communication linkage are critical, however, the task of implementing onboard wireless systems in vehicles is particularly challenging.
Some of the key challenges include:
- Implementing non-blocking, high-speed communication paths between wireless interfaces and Electronic Control Units (ECUs)
- Integrating robust EMI and RF shielding to minimize external interference as well as avoiding potential interference emitted by the on-board systems
- Creating more powerful ECUs to handle real-time wireless inputs along with processing huge datasets, and triggering on-the-fly responses
- Tightly integrating with key vehicular control systems such as the engine, drivetrain, braking, steering, sensor for initiating real-time actions
- Leveraging modular integration and miniaturization and advanced manufacturing technologies to minimize the size of compact onboard systems while optimizing internal process flows
Other important systems design and manufacturing disciplines need to be observed, such as environmental robustness, high-density interconnects and electronic packaging methods.
As automotive manufacturers continue moving toward autonomous “smart” vehicles, the complementary evolution of “smart” infrastructure will help usher in a safer and more efficient environment where vehicles are much more aware of the world around them and can acquire and respond to information in ways that human drivers cannot. The result will be faster, safer, and more convenient transportation of people and cargo while freeing up riders to be more productive during trips.