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Critics say Ford move pushes life-saving V2V down the road


Vehicle to Vehicle Communication, or V2V, is a potentially life-saving technology that allows cars to communicate with each other and with traffic signals and other road infrastructure to prevent accidents.

On Monday, Ford Motor Company announced it will install a version of V2V, called C-V2X, in all its cars, starting in 2022.

But the news was not met with universal acclaim. 

That's because General Motors and Toyota are already using a non-compatible system, called DSRC, and Ford's decision stops the momentum for DSRC to become the system used for V2V in the U.S.

How it works

Jared Wendt of Panasonic, a Ford collaborator on the C-V2X project, goes through a couple demonstrations to show just what vehicle to vehicle technology can do. 

Like preventing the often deadly T-bone crash at an intersection.

Wendt's driver steps on the gas, ready to blow through a stop sign, while another vehicle (also equipped with C-V2X) is going through the intersection. Both cars are continuously sending a signal to the other about their projected speed and path.

"Someone's blowing through a red light," Wendt narrates. "Happens all the time."

Then, Wendt's car issues a loud warning.

"Elevated warning," Wendt says. "Driver pumps the brakes; we avoid an accident altogether in the middle of an intersection."

There are multiple situations where V2V could help drivers avoid accidents. The systems can warn that another car has run into black ice ahead, or tell a car that another car, two or three cars ahead, has come to a complete stop on the highway, or warn that a driver is about to rear-end another car.

Ford dropped out of a DSRC consortium last year - so its announcement isn't a big surprise

Ford Motor Company's Don Butler says the advantage of the C-V2X system is it can send signals over longer distances than DRSC - allowing emergency vehicles to tell traffic lights ahead to turn red for other approaching vehicles, for example.  

But C-V2X is not compatible with DSRC. General Motors has already installed DSRC systems in some Cadillacs, and Toyota announced last year it would phase in DSRC in all its vehicles, beginning in 2024.

Butler says Ford didn't make the decision to go with another V2V system lightly. He says one big benefit is it will be able to piggyback on the future faster speed of 5G, because it's a cellular based system - not a Wi-Fi based system like DSRC.

"We have the ability to not only get a more efficient, cost-effective way of deploying a technology; we have a way of riding a technology wave that's only going to grow as we go forward," he says.

Not just another fight for survival in the technology marketplace

Navigant Research analyst Sam Abuelsamid says this is certainly not the first time similar technologies have fought to the death in the marketplace.

VHS versus Beta comes to mind, for those of a certain age.

"More recently we had Blu-ray and HD-DVD," he says. "Two competing technologies doing essentially the same thing, that came out around the same time and Blu-ray won out."

But this battle is for much higher stakes.

Jim Sayer is with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. His group oversaw a big pilot project in southeast Michigan using DSRC, not the system Ford is using.

He says DSRC could be implemented industry-wide today. In fact, it was ready to go two years ago.

"There's been hundreds of millions of dollars invested by the industry, the federal government, local governments, and quite frankly, just taxpayers like you and I," says Sayer of DSRC.

Sayer says now, it's going to take more time, money and research to prove that this other system is just as good or better.

He says that delay translates to potential lives lost.

V2V is coming. It's just a question of when, now.

Analyst Sam Abuelsamid says eventually, automakers will have to work out the disagreement.

"Because everybody realizes that for this to be a benefit, you need to have every vehicle be able to talk to every vehicle and every roadside unit," he says. "If they're talking different languages, then it doesn't help anybody."

He suspects GM and Toyota will blink, and switch to the system Ford is using. Or, if not, a company will find a low-cost way to make the two systems compatible.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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