Why the U.S. is Falling Behind in AI and Autonomous Drive Tech, Part 2
January 26, 2019
In 2016 NHTSA proposed a DSRC mandate for all new light vehicles. A 2017 AP report said the initiative was killed by the Trump administration. NHTSA walked that claim back the same day. My head hurts.
A few years ago the U.S. led the world in wireless vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology. Pilots were popping up around the country based on the IEEE 802.11p protocol (also known as wireless access in vehicular environments (WAVE) or dedicated short-range communications (DSRC)), which, it appeared, would become the de facto V2X communications standard.
Then, in December of 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT), proposed a mandate that DSRC technology be designed into all new light vehicles by 2020. That proposal was met with 460 public comments, and then, for a year, nothing, until November of 2017 when the AP reported that the Trump initiative had killed the initiative.
THEN, NHTSA, in a response to an interview request by Ars Technica the same day as the AP report, stated the following:
"The Department of Transportation and NHTSA have not made any final decision on the proposed rulemaking concerning a V2V mandate. Any reports to the contrary are mistaken. In all events, DOT hopes to use the dedicated spectrum for transportation lifesaving technologies. Safety is the Department’s number one priority,"
My head hurts.
Arguments can be made for and against both decisions. On one hand, NHTSA’s proposed DSRC mandate would have installed a systematic process for rolling out V2X technology nationwide. An undertaking of that magnitude, like it or not, will require an unprecedented amount of government participation, from the allocation of spectrum to standardization of access and communications technologies and on down the line.
On the other hand, an undertaking of that magnitude will require an unprecedented amount of government participation. Brent Skorup, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, writes:
“The DOT has not wavered from its commitment in the 1990s to develop ITS infrastructure via “a top-down, systematic process” where, the Department says, “each component of the system” is prescribed by regulators…
“In 1999 and 2004, the FCC codified DSRC transmission standards, transmit power, emission mask requirements, priority framework, antenna height, and equipment certification procedures. For DSRC V2V devices, the FCC and NHTSA have prescribed or have proposed to prescribe:
- Access Technology (IEEE 802.11p)
- Spectrum Channels (10 MHz)
- Spectrum Bands (5.9 GHz)
- Throughput (6 Mbps)
- Communications Technology (DSRC)
Even the DSRC device makers were hand-selected by DOT officials and subsidized.”
This is why the electronics industry has vehemently opposed government regulation virtually since its inception. Should the mandate be enacted, industry would be designing in a 20-year-old technology that would likely be deployed for decades, essentially stripping the segment of innovation.
But more crippling than the reasons for or against the mandate is the confusion and uncertainty created by its proposal, supposed termination, and apparent endurance. With no clear insight into the direction of V2X technology, development stalled. Meanwhile, other technologies emerged in different regions.
For instance, the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), a technology consortium backed by BMW, Daimler, Ford, Ericsson, Vodafone, Huawei, Intel, Qualcomm, and Samsung, is now pushing cellular V2X (C-V2X) technology based on 5G networking capabilities. Notably, C-V2X is now gaining traction in China.
In Europe, the Car-to-Car Communication Consortium continues to champion IEEE 802.11p technology under the umbrella of the ITS-G5 standard.
Back in the U.S., Ford recently announced that it will adopt C-V2X, and Qualcomm outfitted the city of Las Vegas with C-V2X road-side units (RSUs) for the recent CES 2019 tradeshow. The two companies, along with Audi and Panasonic, are now conducting pilots in Colorado based on the technology. Toyota has committed to DSRC in all of its North American vehicles beginning in 2021. GM deployed DSRC in its 2017 Cadillac CTS, but has not integrated either technology in any models since.
Amidst the hesitation, companies like Autotalks, a fabless Israeli semiconductor company, have created solutions that support both V2X communications standards. The company’s PLUTON2 RF Transceiver IC supports dual-band IEEE 802.11p in 5.15 – 5.93 GHz spectrum or single-band C-V2X direct communications (PC5) at 2.4 GHz. The AEC Q-100 grade 2 chips are capable of concurrent 802.11p V2X and 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WLAN operation, and integrate a pre-PA for lowered BOM costs.
The PLUTON2 RF ICs pair with Autotalks’ CRATON2 or SECTON dual-channel-optimized IEEE 802.11p and diversity C-V2X direct communications (PC5) Rel. 14 / Rel. 15 modems. Both modems support 433 Mbps IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac operation at 2.4 or 5 GHz and concurrent 802.11p/WLAN connectivity, as well as line-rate ECDSA encryption and an embedded V2X hardware security module.
Autotalks semiconductor solutions are fabricated by STMicroelectronics. The CRATON2 and SECTON are available in evaluation kits, one of which can be seen in the images below that depict dual-mode transmissions over 802.11p and C-V2X technologies.
The Rigor Mortis of V2X Regulation
American politician Aaron Burr said "error often is to be preferred to indecision." Indecision prompted by heavy-handed legislation initially, followed by an over-correction, is what plagues the U.S. V2X market today.
In the interim, dual-mode solutions like those from Autotalks can bridge the gap until one technology emerges as the clear-cut solution for wireless vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. Until then, it's likely that indecision will hold the U.S. – once the standard bearer for V2X – further and further behind in the deployment of life-saving technology.