author: Eric Walz
Most drivers have experienced a speeding fire truck or police vehicle quickly approaching from behind requiring them to quickly react to get out of the way. The danger of these situations is compounded when approaching a busy intersection at high speed when the traffic light is red. For the first responders rushing to a scene, speeding through red lights at intersections is not only dangerous to themselves, but for other nearby drivers and pedestrians.
But new wireless communications technologies being developed and tested by leading companies, including chipmaker Qualcomm Technologies, Applied Information, Audi of America, Commsignia and the city of Peachtree Corners, Georgia, can help make roads by connecting vehicles to nearby vehicles and infrastructure such as traffic lights.
C-V2X, short for “cellular vehicle-to-everything”, provides low latency communications for connecting vehicles to infrastructure without a cellular network or service plan. As more connected vehicles are being sold by automakers, the use of C-V2X communications has the potential to make roads much safer for all users, including pedestrians.
In the future, C-V2X communications will serve as the foundation for vehicles to “talk” to each other and everything around them—providing 360 degrees non-line-of-sight awareness and a higher level of predictability for enhanced road safety and autonomous driving, according to Qualcomm.
The umbrella of short-range communications technology includes Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-everything (V2X), Vehicle-to-Roadside Infrastructure (V2I) and Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P) communication.
Pilot deployments of C-V2X and V2V communications technology are being tested in the Atlanta, Georgia suburbs with plans to expand to other cities, pending FCC approval. Companies developing the hardware and software to support C-V2X communications for the auto industry include Qualcomm, Applied Information, Audi of America and Commsignia.
Audi was an early adopter of vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology and has been working directly with Qualcomm for the past several years on various pilot deployments of C-V2X technology in the U.S.
In 2020, Audi was the world’s first automaker to network its series-production vehicles with traffic lights in the city of Dusseldorf, Germany using V2I technology.
Qualcomm continues its push into the automotive space by building the hardware that helps automakers to build connected vehicles, advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) and automated driving features.
Applied Information is a leading developer of smart city technologies, including connected, intelligent transportation systems (ITS) that improve traffic flow. Among its products, the company offers a web-based application called “Glance Smart City Supervisory” to help city planners better manage traffic flows and traffic lights.
Commsignia specializes in connected car and V2X hardware and software solutions for vehicle advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) systems. Commsignia is also dedicated to the research and development of car connectivity systems for Audi.
The Peachtree Corners Curiosity Lab in Georgia recently welcomed guests and companies from the 5G Automotive Association conference held in Atlanta to experience live C-V2X demonstrations of some of these new -connected vehicle technologies. Among the highlights, the companies demonstrated how C-V2X technologies can be used to improve pedestrian safety.
The connected vehicle technologies being deployed and tested at the Peachtree Corners Curiosity Lab Technology Park are part of an economic development initiative by the city of Peachtree Corners.
The 500-acre Technology Park serves as a living laboratory for startups and established companies to deploy and test developing advanced mobility technologies, including autonomous vehicles, in a real-world testing environment without barriers.
These various projects are testing the next generation of intelligent mobility and smart city technology, which is turning the region around Atlanta into one of the premiere smart city testing regions in the country.
The city of Alpharetta has already made its roads safer by deploying and testing C-V2X technology in pilots using school buses and the city’s fire trucks.
Among the projects, the partners outfitted fire trucks and school buses with C-V2X hardware that allows them to communicate with nearby roadside units (RSUs) as the vehicles approach busy intersections.
We recently visited Alpharetta for a real-world demonstration of C-V2X technology and its applications that can lead to safer roads.
The city of Alpharetta is home to the “Infrastructure-Automotive Technology Laboratory” (iATL), which opened in Jan 2020. The iATL is the world’s first facility where automakers and manufacturers of electronic road signs can create and test the latest C-V2X technologies and applications for connected vehicles to communicate with traffic signals and other smart roadside traffic control equipment.
The lab includes every type of DOT-approved electronic road signs and traffic lights installed throughout the entire U.S., to ensure that the C-V2X technology in development can communicate with all of them, regardless of manufacturer of the units.
One of the most innovative use cases of the C-V2X communications technology is turning red lights at intersections to green as fire trucks or school buses approach to allow the vehicles to proceed uninterrupted. We rode along for a demo during a recent visit to the iATL in Alpharetta.
The real-world demos were offered to attendees of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) Conference held in Atlanta last month. 5GAA is a global organization of companies from the automotive, telecommunications and technology industries that’s working to bring partners like Qualcomm and Applied Information together to deploy these types of connected vehicle safety and smart city technology in cities throughout the U.S.
One of the demo trips took us though busy afternoon rush hour traffic in Alpharetta in a bus outfitted with the C-V2X communications technology to automatically turn each traffic light green as we approached busy intersections.
The C-V2X hardware installed on the bus interfaces communicates with roadside units installed at intersections that communicate with the approaching vehicles and control the operation of the traffic signals.
Once an approaching school bus or emergency vehicle is detected by the roadside units, the traffic signal turns green and allows the vehicle to pass through unimpeded. During the demo, we experienced no red lights and were able to travel through multiple intersections along the route without interruption in suburban rush hour traffic.
“For emergency vehicles, a major benefit is traffic signal preemption,” said Jim Misener, Sr. Director, Product Management and Global V2X Ecosystem Lead at Qualcomm. “There are near-term benefits from V2I use cases that bring value as soon as a single vehicle and single intersection are enabled with C-V2X – improving safety is as straightforward as installing an RSU and retrofitting a vehicle with an aftermarket OBU (onboard unit).”
This C-V2X technology is welcomed by cities like Alpharetta as an innovative way to make its roads safer. More importantly, it can reduce response times of police vehicles, fire trucks or ambulances responding to a call, which could eventually lead to its widespread deployment in cities across the U.S.
In Alpharetta, the traffic lights will give buses or emergency vehicles a green light for approximately 40 seconds. For drivers of other vehicles that happen to get stopped by a red light as a fire truck or school bus approaches an intersection, it’s barely noticeable.
The traffic light communications system is also smart enough to control individual traffic lights for specific lanes to lessen the impact on other drivers, such as turn-only lanes that display a green left turn arrow for vehicles making left turns. If a fire truck, for example, was making a left turn, the vehicle would get a green left turn signal as it approaches.
The traffic signal control technology can also help drivers avoid having to quickly pull over or yield to speeding vehicles near intersections at red or green lights, which in itself can be dangerous as a fast-moving emergency vehicle approaches from behind. Often there is not enough space to get out of the way, which can further impede the first responders and increase the chance of a crash.
“C-V2X technology is the game-changer that we have been waiting for to enable a number of safety applications on our roadways today,” said Bryan Mulligan, President and Founder, Applied Information. “This includes getting paramedics safely through traffic intersections in order to attend to time-critical emergencies such as heart attack, stroke, and opioid victims, where, with this technology, travel times are reduced by an average of one minute per emergency call. In addition, and importantly, this technology keeps the members of the public safe as a result of paramedics no longer being required to navigate through red lights.”
Atlanta-area suburbs experience some of the worst rush hour traffic in the country each weekday and getting across the city at certain times can be frustrating for drivers, but it’s especially bad for emergency responders that often have to run red lights when responding to a call.
For school buses in Alpharetta, the technology makes the trip to school safer, as well as much faster. School children tend to get rowdy whenever a bus stops, but by not having to stop for traffic lights keeps the children better behaved while onboard, so the driver can better pay attention to the road, according to Trey Stow, Director of Transportation Operations for Fulton County Public Schools.
Some tech-savvy drivers in Alpharetta have learned that many of the local district’s school buses are equipped with C-V2X communications technology. Drivers tend to get frustrated when caught behind a school bus making frequent stops, but in Alpharetta, being caught behind a yellow school bus outfitted with C-V2X hardware could be an advantage, since the traffic lights will always turn green as the bus approaches an intersection.
This same C-V2X technology is also being tested in the city of Peachtree Corners to warn drivers of Audi vehicles on the instrument cluster that a school bus is stopped ahead, so drivers can be made aware ahead of time that children are present that may be exiting or entering the bus.
For these C-V2X tests, roadside units (RSUs), were mounted on flashing speed limit signs near school zones that warn drivers to slow down and use caution. In addition, a 2021 Audi e-tron and a Blue Bird school bus were equipped with Qualcomm hardware and Commsignia’s C-V2X-based solutions for the tests.
According to the NHTSA, from 2010 to 2019, 23% of all pedestrians killed in school-transportation-related crashes were children 5 to 10 years old.
“The benefits of C-V2X for school zones has the potential to help save lives in some of the most vulnerable areas,” said Brandon Branham, Assistant City Manager & Chief Technology Officer, Peachtree Corners. “Schools across the country let thousands of students across roadways, creating a significant amount of vulnerable road users. Using CV2X we are able to alert drivers during these heightened times of the day to be more alert of the children in the area, as well as send messages to surrounding vehicles when buses initiate their stop signals.”
V2P technology can also protect other vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and bicyclists.
Using direct, short range communications technology and a companion smartphone app, pedestrians can be alerted on their phones when a vehicle is approaching. Drivers can also receive a warning on the dash that a pedestrian is present and many enter a nearby crosswalk. The dash notification warns drivers to use extra caution.
We were provided a demonstration of this technology in a specially-equipped Audi e-tron. Each time a person entered the roadway on a closed test course, the vehicle alerted the driver to their presence via the instrument cluster.
The warnings to drivers and other road users can be customizable, so they are triggered at specific distances, giving pedestrians ample time to avoid entering the street when cars are too close and providing drivers with ample time to brake, if needed.
“We are excited at the promise that C-V2X technology can help begin to provide safer roads for all road users including school children and school bus drivers,” said Brad Stertz, Director, Government Affairs, Audi of America. “While many gains have been made through better signage, warning signs, etc. we are optimistic that the next major safety improvements on our roads will come through connecting cars to the infrastructure around them.”
Another collaboration between Qualcomm, Commsignia and Audi announced in March aims to protect cyclists using C-V2X communications.
Audi of America is working with Spoke, a company that developed a C-V2X solution that offers a safe and connected biking experience. It sends safety alerts to the instrument cluster of the Audi vehicles to alert drivers when cyclists are nearby. The goal of the project is to prevent accidents involving cyclists and help make the roads safer for all users.
The partners have previously deployed C-V2X technology in Virginia and Hawaii. For the one year-long pilot in Virginia with Qualcomm, Audi and the state’s Department of Transportation (VDOT), the companies collaborated on a project in 2020 that alerted roadside workers when vehicles are approaching.
The teams in Virginia developed C-V2X and V2P hardware and software that allowed an Audi Q8 test vehicle to communicate with roadside workers that face dangerous situations on a daily basis by working in proximity to speeding highway traffic.
The road workers wore C-V2X-equipped safety vests, while the Audi Q8 was equipped with Qualcomm’s C-V2X-based hardware platform to deliver warnings to drivers. The warning on the dash read, “Drive carefully!”
Using direct vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) or C-V2X communication, the Audi Q8 is capable of receiving safety messages on the dashboard every 100 milliseconds.
Audi’s other partners in the Virginia project were road sign operator Commsignia, American Tower, Traffic Technology Services (TTS) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).
For the 2020 pilot in Hawaii, Applied Information integrated C-V2X technology into 34 traffic signals along the high-traffic Nimitz Corridor in Honolulu as a part of the V2X part of the program. Also participating in the project is the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) and the University of Hawaii College of Engineering.
The C-V2X technology for the project in Hawaii was developed by Qualcomm.
Applied Information’s V2N technology allows drivers, pedestrians and the infrastructure to connect using the free Applied Information TravelSafely smartphone app. The Applied Information app connects drivers to infrastructure using data from multiple sources.
The goal of the pilot is to eventually extend the deployment of connected vehicle infrastructure across the entire state of Hawaii, using C-V2X communications capabilities for connected vehicle and traffic infrastructure. The plans include the installation and operation of a cellular-based V2X system for all traffic lights throughout the state.
Audi already offers its “Traffic Light Information” (TLI) service in some cities, which allows Audi vehicles to communicate directly with traffic signals, letting drivers know the status of the traffic light on the vehicle’s instrument cluster as a driver approaches a controlled intersection.
If a driver is stuck at a red light, the instrument cluster will display a seconds countdown timer, so the driver knows precisely when the light will turn back to green and will not be caught off guard.
Although much is happening in the development of C-V2X technology for automakers and their technology partners with projects like these, there are still barriers to deployment pending FCC approval to deploy these systems.
The FCC, which oversees deployment of wireless communication technology in the U.S., has yet to act on a waiver that automakers, state DOTs and OEMs requested in Dec 2021 that would allow C-V2X deployments to begin right away.
However, there has been some progress. The FCC released three public notices this month, two of which seek comment on the request for a waiver. The other reminds existing Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) licensees of the approaching deadline to phase out legacy dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) operations in the 5.850-5.895 MHz portion of the band.
The FCC plans to use the 5.895-5.925 GHz band for ITS applications, and require the transition of the ITS standard from DSRC technology in the 5.850-5.895 MHz portion of the band that will be allocated to wireless, C-V2X communications.