By Clem Robertson.
Vehicle automation is an exciting development for many aspects of road transport: traffic control, fuel reduction, and for the alleviation of human error in driving. However, what is not known by many is that current systems being proposed for driverless cars involve data transfer between the car and the road infrastructure via cellular network infrastructure: ‘Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything Communication’ (C-V2X) and DSRC WIFI: ‘Digital Short Range Communication (DSRC)’. In this blog, I focus on some of the positives and negatives of using a WIFI or cellular network for these V2X communications.
In urban areas or on the strategic road network (SRN), I expect it will be commercially viable and profitable for WIFI or cellular communication to provide a satisfactory service. But how many of you have recently experienced a loss in your mobile phone signal even in an urban area? Or, how often have you experienced a loss of or poor WIFI coverage with no warning? Even with a high density of WIFI access points and mobile network hubs embedded into our landscape, the commonplace aspects like tunnels, hills, large buildings and other radio interferers will often cause a reduction or loss in service. I am not sure I could trust my safety or the safety of my family on just my mobile signal or WIFI coverage – would you?
Open is Good
There are instances when having an open WIFI or cellular network integrated with your car and its surroundings is a good thing:
- Collaborative information: Your car will be able to tell what is down the road in almost real time (sub 1 sec) as it is communicating with multiple infrastructure points (the X in V2X). It should not be relied on for low latency real time information, but for activities such as upcoming congestion and accidents, it is perfect. It can allow real time (within secs) flow control of vehicle infrastructure through this collaborative approach: if a car breaks down up ahead, your car takes you on a faster route automatically and you don’t even know about it. It’s like Google Maps on steroids!
- Advertising: Imagine a world where you travel down a road and you come up to a McDonalds. A notice pops up in your car: “Don’t be tired! 10% off a McDonalds coffee if you buy now”. This hyper-targeted advertising might seem like sensory overload, but if you aren’t driving the car, what else are you going to do?!
When is Open Bad?
- Cyber attacks: Anything that is connected to the internet/network infrastructure cannot be assumed to be secure. As Dark Trace states: “Cyber-attackers may target transportation companies not only to gain access to customer databases or other confidential data that may be monetized, but also to deliberately disrupt critical services, whether for political or ideological reasons”. No matter how brilliant a cyber security system is, there will always be vulnerabilities in the network.
Autonomous vehicles must be considered as a safety critical system in the same way as aircraft are. At R4Dar Technologies, we believe certain vehicle systems must remain isolated from the external network to ensure a minimum level of safety in the event that the vehicle’s systems have been compromised.
- The physical world: As mentioned earlier in this blog post, WIFI or mobile networks can experience reduced function of data transfer in bad weather or when there is physical interference (high buildings, hills, tunnels, etc). When road conditions are already bad, C-V2X or DSRC WIFI could be an added risk.
- Mass emergencies: Signal could be compromised when there is data congestion – remember everyone calling their loved ones in London to say they were OK after terrorist activity and no one being able to get through? Or when you are at an event with a large crowd? The systems get overloaded. I wouldn’t want to be driving and be at risk of a system overloading. This would also be amplified in a war scenario when the military may need to take over satellite comms, but that’s a big enough topic for a blog in itself.
There are amazing companies working in the DSRC WIFI and 4/5G C-V2X space developing stunning technology. But in a safety critical application, we propose that WIFI and cellular communication is just not the right technology to reliably provide the necessary low-latency safety information in all scenarios. The reduction in human error vs the risk to humans from DSRC WIFI & C-V2X just doesn’t add up. Just one death through shortfalls in the autonomous system will be perceived to be too much.
If you have thoughts on the subject, we’d love to hear from you, so please get in touch!