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How Auto Safety Will Evolve in the Next Decade

Brian Daugherty

Safety is an important and therefore expected characteristic of automotive transportation.  While traffic fatalities in the US have decreased significantly over the past several decades through the introduction of technologies like energy absorbing materials, ABS, airbags, and electronic stability control, we seem to have now reached a plateau. To point the fatality curve downward again, the industry is introducing the next generation of safety and warning products.

Detecting Threats Today

One such technology that is being launched on a broad spectrum of new vehicles is advanced driver awareness systems (ADAS). ADAS typically uses radar sensors and cameras to constantly monitor the surrounding environment and provide warnings or mitigating actions if a threat is detected.  As good as these systems are becoming, they are still limited by the range of their sensors and can be degraded by inclement weather. Additional radio-based systems that can “see” beyond this sensor range are under development and will augment the information provided by ADAS-equipped vehicles. This technology will also allow non-ADAS equipped vehicles to get significant ADAS-style benefits as well as many additional ones for a very low cost.

What’s on the Horizon

One break-through system on the horizon is Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications – collectively known as V2X communications. This technology will also include communication with pedestrians, cyclists, etc. This will improve situations when you are driving down a dark, winding road in the rain or snow because your vehicle informs you that someone is walking along the roadside, and counts down the closing distance as you approach. Visteon recently developed a video that highlights three use cases showing the benefit of V2V technology.

Sensors are great, but high-speed, direct communications with the things that you want to avoid colliding with is even better. The system is capable of operating in all weather conditions and environments. Radio-based systems allow vehicles to “talk” to each other as well as with road infrastructure such as traffic signals, intersections and roadside devices. These capabilities will help prevent intersection collisions while also giving drivers stoplight timing to improve fuel economy and improve traffic flow.   

Considering Cost

In addition to all-weather capability, one of the biggest advantages of V2X technology is cost. Since it is a short-range, 5.9 GHz radio-based technology, it is far less expensive than radar systems. Now that most of the technology and cost concerns have been addressed, implementation is the remaining critical hurdle.

The US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proceeding with their stated plan to evaluate V2X communications and propose rulemaking to require this technology on new US vehicles. Based on the timing, the phase-in will most likely begin in the 2020 timeframe. Campaigns like CEA’s Innovating Safety and discussions during industry events like CES can help expedite the process of getting this technology on today’s cars by sharing information and keeping the public well informed.