How Could a New FCC Rule Boost Autonomous Vehicles?

Eric Broockman Chief Technology Officer Published 6 Dec 2019

Reducing Traffic, Improving Safety, Saving Energy, and Finding Parking with C-V2X

On December 12th, the FCC is expected to score a win for autonomous cars with the reallocation of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band. This rule change will enable the use of 20 MHz of spectrum for C-V2X. No, this isn’t a new pharmaceutical for clearer skin. It stands for Cellular-Vehicle-to-Everything. Here, everything can mean other cars or vehicles, public infrastructures such as utility poles, pedestrians, bicyclists, scooters, and public safety vehicles.  

At first glance, it may not be obvious why your car would want to chit-chat with all types of everything. Let’s consider the following. The most advanced cars on the road, such as the Tesla Model-S or forthcoming Cybertruck, include builtin ML/AI engines, cameras, and various forms of distance sensors. This is part of an effort to move to an era of the autonomous or self-driving cars. But for all of these sensors and all of the intelligence, these systems aren’t omniscient. They can’t predict the future, see the rest of the city or look around corners. But what if the smart car of the future were alerted about a vehicle approaching your intersection at high speed, headed into a cataclysmic “T-bone” wreck? This is not a line-of-sight situation that sensors can deal with today. All your smart car can do now is deploy airbags at the last moment and activate the brakes too late. By contrast, C-V2X will be able to alert your car with sufficient warning time to avoid the T-Bone catastrophe altogether.  

What happens when a high percentage of new cars have C-V2X and an ambulance is trying to get your neighbor to the hospital? The public infrastructure will be able to alert cars along the way with sufficient warnings to make the path much clearer, enabling the ambulance tp arrive quickly and more safely. This will save lives and reduce tragic accidents. 

What is the most common complaint about traffic? – well, its the traffic itself. This includes the frustrating, ever so common and brainbending situation of waiting for a light at a major intersection when the only car from the other direction made a rightonred minutes ago. Early C-V2X studies show that traffic flow can be improved by over 30% when the infrastructure properly times the traffic signals and cars can communicate with a Smart City. In non-peak hours, the improvements are even more impressive. This would result in faster and safer travel that uses less energy and causes less air pollution along with a smaller carbon footprint. 

Another interesting traffic use case for C-V2X. Have you ever been on a busy section of a major highway when for some inexplicable reason, all of a sudden the traffic in one stretch of highway greatly slows down? Often this can be explained by queueing theory applied to the moving traffic when only a small 5% of the drivers get spooked by congestion or over-react to a single red taillight. Early studies show that with the appropriate use of C-V2X, these mystery clogs can be alleviated 90% of the time. Wow – wouldn’t that be great? 

Parking? I’ll bet you have a car, or have a friend with a car that has “parking assist”. You may use the self-parking feature, but have you ever really used the “find a space” feature? No – I didn’t think so. But, what if your smart city also employed C-V2X? Your car would be alerted to an open space. “But someone will take it before me,” you say. What if the space had a smart parking meter that flashed reserved for the 90 seconds it takes you to arrive and park in your space? Wow – now you’re talking. What if this were applied to paid parking lots as well? Get me some C-V2X right now for my trips into San Francisco, please. 

Looked at another way, C-V2X is an important step in making all vehicle traffic safer, and making it possible for the smart car of the future to be able to “see the future”, look around corners, watch out for scooters and pedestrians, enable safety vehicles to travel faster and more quickly to assist the public, speed the flow of traffic both in the city, and along major thoroughfares – and find and save you a parking spaceSo watch for the future of C-V2X, and when you begin to hear about it, know that it isn’t something to ask your pharmacist for – but instead, to look for in your next 2021 smart car coming to a dealership near you. 

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