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Qualcomm, Partners Eye Improving Road Safety

Imagine driving in your car where you are suddenly alerted to a school bus ahead with its stop arm out and children unloading; or on a foggy day when digital road signs are obscured, your radio quickly cuts out to broadcast an Amber alert message; or as you approach an intersection, you are informed of what pedestrians are doing in the crosswalks and of an autonomous vehicle making an unprotected left turn across from you.  

C-V2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything) technology is already here, is tested and is ready to deploy. That was the message of a roundtable discussion of participants in the 5G Automotive Association’s (5GAA) C-V2X demonstrations held in Atlanta this month.

 

Participants and companies in the roundtable and demonstrations included Qualcomm Technologies Senior Director of Product Management & Global V2X Ecosystem Lead Jim Misener, Applied Information President Bryan Mulligan, Audi Director of Government Affairs Brad Stertz, Commsignia CEO Laszlo Virag and Brandon Branham, assistant city manager and CTO for the city of Peachtree Corners, Georgia, where C-V2X technologies are being beta tested.

“We don’t view this as a demo. We view this as both a practical reality and mixed with that are what that practical reality will grow into,” Misener said of the 5GAA showcase demonstrations. “The pursuit is one of safety. We’re firm believers of that so [Qualcomm has] put significant resources toward working with ecosystem partners toward making that happen.”

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Improving Traffic Safety

 

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 42,915 fatalities from car accidents last year – a 10.5% increase over 2020 and a 16-year high.  

“These numbers are going in the wrong direction and [C-V2X] is going to play a significant part in reducing those numbers,” Mulligan said.

 

Mulligan’s company, Applied Information, makes the technology that goes into infrastructure like roadways, school beacons, fire trucks, alert signs. He said that the products his company ships already have the C-V2X capabilities installed. As part of the 5GAA demonstration, he pointed to one of the use cases for these devices – a school bus that sent out a message to oncoming cars that the stop arm was down.

 

“Stop arm violations are just a huge challenge here in Fulton County. The Fulton County School District is very involved in these early deployments,” he said, adding that the district surveyed their drivers who reported one day with 680 stop arm violations where people were over taking buses.

 

Stertz said Audi’s interest in C-V2X technology is to address rising traffic fatalities.

 

“We believe technology is a way to really begin to address that in a way that has been stubbornly resistant over the past several years,” he said, adding that the 5GAA showcase demonstrated there are “quick wins” with the technology that is already ready to deploy and that the tech will only improve over time as more vehicles begin to talk to each other and more of the infrastructure is installed.  

In Peachtree Corners, where the some of the technology is already deployed, Branham said the city used existing infrastructure like cameras atop traffic signals and crosswalk pushbuttons for pedestrian crossings to send out safety messages to approaching vehicles.  

Peachtree Corners created a roadway for the technology to be validated, proved and scaled out,” he said. “All of this with our partners here in the technology aspect but really implementing it into the public sector and rolling this out into the public infrastructure.”

 

Roadways to Adoption

 

With much of the technology proved in the showcase demonstration, a good portion of the roundtable discussion focused on how C-V2X will ultimately be adopted by auto manufacturers and municipalities and installed in cars and traffic infrastructure.

“The OAM perspective is it’s not a perspective of if [C-V2X will be adopted by car makers], it’s ‘when’ at this point,” Stertz said. “CV2X is the way forward. Now it becomes a matter of building that into our product cycles in the years ahead.”  

Stertz added that in addition to Audi, Ford Motors has also signaled it will be putting CV2X in its forthcoming cars and trucks. “And other OAMs that are part of 5GAA are looking forward to this opportunity not only for manually driven vehicles, but also for automated technologies in the future.”

 

Mulligan said deployment of the technology into infrastructure will be “an evolution, not a revolution” and that early applications like getting ambulances through traffic faster and school zone safety will lead the way because of pressure on local leaders to deliver results in safety.  

“I think the infrastructure will have meaningful deployment in the next five years,” he said.

Virag, whose company Commsignia provided “smart city” onboard units in the vehicles used in the showcase demonstration, pointed out that fleet management technology is already deployed for emergency vehicles and is already in use.  

“The clear benefit of C-V2X is that applying the technology you would have a whole bunch of other possibilities in the future to realize safety applications,” he said. “Sensor technology that reaches everyone increases the mutual beneficiary level. So applications that need a highly penetrated environment will then start to work.”

 

Misener pointed out that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act “opened the door to an unprecedented amount of funding.” Discretionary funding in the bill will be competitive and go to projects with “mature standards,” which are already being developed. Misener added that he recently worked with an international group standardizing intersections and how they will operate within a C-V2X framework.

Branham said demonstrating the technology in cities like Peachtree Corners will be what prepares the public for quick adoption and pointed to the adoption of the technology by the county after the city’s success with it.

 

“Because they saw it work, it does what it says it will do, they’re outfitting 385 traffic signals wit C-V2X decks because they got to see it,” he said. “So we all know this is a scalable product.” 

 

Roadblocks  

C-V2X does face some regulatory roadblocks. Before mass adoption, the Federal Communications Commission will need to approve the radio frequency spectrum that the technologies will operate in – and that spectrum is limited.

 

Misener said the spectrum for C-V2X has been reduced from what companies like Qualcomm wanted, which has created some challenges in creating standards for how the technology will operate.

When messages are sent out or received between cars or between cars and infrastructure, they will need to be sorted and delivered based on importance to safety

 

“So that’s one way of fitting in the essential applications – fitting in at the right time and the right place to happen. It’s the best we can with the spectrum remaining,” he said. “Even though we bemoan losing [the added spectrum], we want to use [the remaining] before we lose the rest of it to unlicensed use. This explains our economic motivation, safety of life motivation and why we’re in a hurry to get this deployed.”

 

Stertz said auto manufacturers’ uncertainty about adopting C-V2X stems from an FCC mandate for the technology during the Obama Administration, followed by “a more open question” after he left office. “Now we have the spectrum set aside for C-V2X with the FCC and are just needing to complete some work on interference levels that might affect performance,” he said.

 

Currently, the technology is being tested using an FCC waiver that allows companies and municipalities to begin deployment and build out applications until final approval happens, Stertz said.

 

Misener also addressed security concerns surrounding the technology. He said messages between cars and infrastructure will include an authentication code – a public key infrastructure that certifies “good and bad actors.”  

“Here we’re using a safety spectrum where everyone could produce an application, so we have to authenticate the application and the user,” he said. “Those standards do exist they’ve been well tested, based on a tried-and-true PKI system.” 

Qualcomm Technologies

Founded: 1985

CEO: Cristiano Amon

Headquarters: San Diego

Business: Manufacturer of processors for mobile phones, computers and automobiles

Revenue: $33.57 billion (2021)

Stock: QCOM (NASDAQ)

Employees: 41,000

Website: www.qualcomm.com

Notable: Qualcomm develops connected in-vehicle safety, entertainment and convenience experiences using 5G, C-V2X, W-Fi, Bluetooth and precise positioning technologies.

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