Barriers Loom on the Road to Intelligent Transportation Systems
Connecting cars and the roads they travel on could be a way to promote safer, more intelligent transportation systems. But before this can happen, state and federal leaders need to iron out fundamental challenges such as securing funding, establishing standards and accessing the radio spectrum. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently outlined the obstacles in its report on intelligent transportation systems.
The Future of Travel
Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology would connect cars to a roadside network, providing access to warnings about congestion or hazardous conditions ahead. The technology could also analyze traffic patterns to allow for a smoother journey. For example, as your car approaches an intersection where the light is red, smart roadway systems could suggest adjusting your speed so you arrive just as it turns green.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimated that 20 percent of signalized intersections will be V2I capable by 2025 and 80 percent would be ready by 2040, according to the GAO report. Of course, these numbers could change as the auto industry embraces new technologies, especially since V2I is just one of many connected car concepts. Self-driving cars could take advantage of the same data in the future.
The nation that has taken the V2I concept the furthest is Japan, which began using roadside equipment to collect and share data with vehicles in 2011. Its system supports dynamic route guidance, safe driving support and electronic toll collection. Among the benefits: Congestion on a Tokyo expressway was reduced by 95 percent, while electronic toll usage increased from 6.1 percent to 73 percent. Carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by an estimated 210,000 tons per year. V2I also contributed to a 60 percent reduction in rear-end collisions on one particularly accident-prone curve, the GAO report noted.
More About V2I and V2V
V2I and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technologies are intended to work together to promote safer, more efficient transportation. V2V would have cars send each other information such as speed, position, acceleration, size, brake status and other “basic safety message” data as often as 10 times per second.
With V2V, the government is working with manufacturers to set standards and may eventually mandate the technology in new vehicles, but the burden of implementation is on automakers. With V2I, federal, state and local governments would have to do the work of instrumenting highways and intersections.
Which is why the V2I rollout is expected to take decades: While automakers are planning to start equipping vehicles for V2V within the next few years, the government will likely lag behind with regard to approval and implementation.
The Challenges of Intelligent Transportation Systems
The GAO report identified six key obstacles to V2I technologies:
- Determining whether V2V and V2I capabilities will be impaired if they are required to share radio frequencies with other applications, such as Wi-Fi;
- Addressing the lack of budget and resources for state and local agencies to deploy and maintain V2I technologies;
- Developing technical standards to ensure interoperability;
- Developing and managing data security and addressing public perceptions related to privacy;.
- Ensuring that drivers respond appropriately to V2I warnings; and
- Addressing liability.
Department of Transportation (DOT) officials, as well as 17 out of 21 experts interviewed by the GAO, considered the proposed spectrum sharing to be one of the major problems.
The Federal Communications Commission has allocated 75 MHz of spectrum, known as the 5.9 GHz band, for dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) messaging between vehicles. However, the FCC is accepting comments on a proposal to allow other devices to share the 5.9 GHz band.
Spectrum sharing could also be imposed by an act of Congress, which has entertained legislation to open the 5.9 GHz spectrum to Wi-Fi. That could include running V2V applications over Wi-Fi rather than DSRC, an idea that has been the subject of experiments courtesy of GM and Cisco Systems.
The DOT argued that dedicated bandwidth would be a better infrastructure choice to “support safety applications that require the immediate transfer of data,” according to the GAO. Additionally, “delays in the transfer of such data due to harmful interference from unlicensed devices may jeopardize crash avoidance capabilities.”
The second big obstacle is dividing the responsibility for roadway improvements. Federal highway improvement funding to states has declined, and state budgets are stretched thin. State transportation officials say they are hard-pressed to maintain existing infrastructure, let alone invest in upgrades.
For intelligent transportation systems to become the norm, the public and private sectors will have to work together to ensure the proper infrastructure services are in place to handle the demand on the roads.