Connectivity is Key to Advancing Safety for Everyone Sharing the Road
Source: Connectivity is Key to Advancing Safety for Everyone Sharing the Road
Over the last few years, we have witnessed extraordinary advances in technology that are revolutionizing vehicle safety. There’s a great deal of well-deserved excitement in the media for the onset of autonomous vehicles that “drive themselves.” However, it’s arguably vehicle “connectivity” — enabling communication among vehicles and between vehicles and highway infrastructure — that provides the most immediate and greatest promise to address traffic safety today.
Sadly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently reported that 36,096 people died in traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2019. Autonomous vehicles, which use onboard sensors such as cameras, radar and lidar to detect nearby objects on the road and plan their path accordingly, have been held up as a solution to reduce this tragically and consistently high number. Without question, their broad scale deployment will help save lives. But many technological and regulatory barriers still need to be overcome before autonomous vehicles are common on U.S. roadways. That’s why one of the best opportunities to address traffic safety is through connected safety technologies, which use real-time communications among road users to help maintain a safe driving environment.
Connected safety technology enables vehicles, pedestrians and traffic signals to instantly exchange safety information such as location, speed, heading, brake status, signal phase and timing ten times a second in real-time in approximately a 200–500 meter range. Through real-time wireless communication, road users can share potential road hazard information, exchange intentions, negotiate upcoming maneuvers, even interact with traffic signal systems to enhance the awareness of the surrounding traffic.
Honda envisions a safety ecosystem that protects everyone sharing the road, including pedestrians, motorcycles and cyclists, by seamlessly communicating real-time safety information. In fact, our own research on connected safety technology is already underway with real-world initiatives in Ohio that include the 33 Smart Mobility Corridor and Marysville Smart Intersection.
To effectively implement a connected safety ecosystem, we need to create technology with a clear purpose, introduce it responsibly with a focus on our customers and everyone sharing the road, and work cooperatively with government and industry to ensure common standards that allow all road users to communicate. To that point, rather than focusing solely on the development of vehicle technology, our strategy includes infrastructure collaboration with local, state and federal governments, private sector partners, and industry stakeholders. This collaborative approach to infrastructure development helps identify key challenges and offers opportunities to work together toward scalable solutions.
We are engaged in a number of pilot programs to learn first-hand about the opportunities and challenges surrounding connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) deployment that will lead to safety advancements.
Honda is currently the only automaker in the U.S. conducting a large-scale connected vehicle pilot to study these challenges. The 33 Smart Mobility Corridor is a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 northwest of Columbus, Ohio. Over 100 Honda associates from our nearby development and manufacturing operations have volunteered to place connected technologies in their vehicles that enable them to interact with one another, as well as with infrastructure.
We are already seeing benefits from monitoring the vehicle-to-everything (V2X) safety data coming from our volunteer vehicle fleet, including more than 1,500 warnings to alert drivers of potential hazards resulting from more than 250,000 V2X interactions. The data is helping us to improve the design of the V2X systems to mitigate collisions, improve traffic flow and increase fuel efficiency.
We’ve also worked closely with the City of Marysville, Ohio on our smart intersection pilot initiative to understand how V2X technology could work in the real world. Using video from four cameras mounted above traffic lights, information is broadcast to surrounding connected vehicles that can provide necessary alerts to the driver such as informing the driver of an emergency vehicle nearby, or a pedestrian that may not be seen by the driver due to weather conditions or an obstructed view. The results thus far are very promising. And we were pleased when the City of Marysville expanded Honda’s smart intersection pilot and brought in additional partners to collaborate on deployment.
We also continue to enhance our SAFE SWARM technology that debuted at CES in 2017. Through an on-board system with V2X communication, the technology works with a network of infrastructure stations along the roadway to ensure frequent communication among vehicles and infrastructure. With this information, the driver — or, in the future, automated vehicle systems — can determine the safest course of action in merging with traffic or avoiding a road hazard. We also can use this technology to prevent potential traffic snarls, take early braking action to help avoid a wave of emergency braking, or to change lanes if needed.
While we’ve gained valuable information from these pilot programs, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent decision to remove the majority of the wireless spectrum allocated for automotive safety communication threatens to slow our progress.
A radio frequency spectrum was originally set aside for the automotive industry to develop safety applications. We use the 5.9 GHz portion of that spectrum for V2X communications between vehicles in projects such as the Smart Intersection in Ohio, sending data to traffic signals and vehicles around the intersection. That data is compiled to help the vehicle understand its surroundings and help warn the driver of possible danger.
The FCC’s decision to reallocate the “safety spectrum” for use by Wi-Fi providers takes away a valuable public safety resource and, in so doing, has set back our efforts to develop new safety technologies that can save lives. The decision could waste investments in technology made by the automotive and technology sectors, as well as state and local governments.
Still, we are confident that we have other technical pathways to achieve our goals. Since the early stages of our research, we have focused on a range of use cases and applications that have a potential safety benefit, regardless of the specific communication platform. We are now exploring alternatives and enhancements to the 5.9 GHz spectrum that leverage new and promising technologies.
Honda is more committed than ever to helping bring about a collision-free society, and it’s clear that connected safety technologies will play a key role in the transition toward higher levels of autonomy. By working with like-minded partners in the auto industry, in government and in the private sector, we will find solutions to this challenge. Together we will cooperatively create technology to advance safety for everyone sharing the road.
Sue Bai is a chief engineer in the Automobile Technology Research division of Honda. Bai is the recipient of the SAE James M. Crawford Executive Standards Committee Outstanding Achievement Award and is a two-time winner of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Intelligent Transportation Systems Award for her achievements in improving safety in mobility environments through connected-vehicle technology. She currently leads a team that supports Honda’s transportation safety and mobility goals through connected vehicle and V2X communication systems.