March 7, 2016 1:15 AM, EST

Studies on Complex V2V Challenges Underway, NHTSA Engineer Says

U.S. Department of Transportation
This story appears in the March 7 print edition of Transport Topics.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An engineer with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said advances in vehicle-to-vehicle communications are accelerating and that new studies are under way to address several critical and complex issues.

Alrik Svenson, a research engineer with NHTSA’s Office of Vehicle Crash Avoidance and Electronic Controls, said vehicle-to-vehicle communications, or V2V, has the ability to “address a large majority” of rear-end, lane-change, intersection and other crashes.

V2V is the wireless exchange of data among vehicles traveling in the same vicinity. Each vehicle on the roadway will be able to communicate with another, and the data are used to provide safety applications and systems.

Addressing the Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual meeting here on Feb. 29, Svenson said NHTSA’s latest project is aimed at developing methods for enabling a tractor to automatically obtain trailer specification information.

Proponents of V2V as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure communications cite safety benefits when vehicles are aware of other vehicles’ locations and warn of potential accidents.

Vehicle-to-infrastructure, or V2I, is the wireless exchange of critical safety and operational data between vehicles and roadway infrastructure, intended primarily to avoid motor vehicle crashes.

The systems can send audible and visual safety warnings to drivers and help take corrective action when required. It also could help harmonize the speed among drivers by sending ahead speed recommendations based on road conditions and level of congestion, and notify first responders instantaneously about dangerous road conditions or crashes.

Svenson said that by leveraging previous V2V work in the light-duty space, tests have shown the system is able to send out basic safety messages illustrating the tractor and trailer are individually being recognized.

However, V2V has not yet matured to understand the contents of the trailer, which affect the precise path it is traveling.

To tackle this problem, the U.S. Department of Transportation has launched a two-year project with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Svenson said the institute is tasked with developing “automated methods of determining trailer characteristics” necessary for deploying two-part V2V basic safety messages involving tractor-trailers.

Possible methods could include radio frequency identification tags, trailer-based rear-facing cameras and data transmission through telematics devices, Svenson said. Drivers have keyed in  information used in field studies, but researchers hope to automate the process, he said.

The goal, he said, is a system that has low cost — or no cost — and one that proves “workable” for the trucking industry.

While hurdles remain, Svenson said, tests in controlled environments have shown great promise in reducing collisions that would have been practically unavoidable without the aid of the V2V system.

He also said some hackers have been able to take control of passenger vehicles through “infotainment” systems and that further study on “threats applicable to the heavy-vehicle industry is required.”

The DOT last year began a study with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to look closer at cybersecurity.

With all of these issues rapidly evolving, Svenson said, now is the time to “freely talk with the industry” because there is no rulemaking in the works.

He stressed that NHTSA was only in a research phase and that a timeline for a heavy-truck rulemaking doesn’t exist.

Tom Cuthbertson, vice president of regulatory affairs at Omnitracs, urged TMC members to be proactive on V2V communications.

He cited as an example that many fleets may want to be sure the government would not prevent them from having V2V messages transmitted to the back office so they could be studied further.

On the light-vehicle side, Svenson said, a notice of proposed rulemaking on V2V was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget in January and that his agency has been busy answering questions for OMB’s clarification.

Svenson said during a previous TMC meeting in Orlando, Florida, that NHTSA was planning to issue a report before the end of 2015 that would summarize five years of its research on V2V communications for heavy vehicles. He updated attendees here that delays in the approval process prevented the agency from meeting that deadline, but he said it is now close to being released to the public.

He also said NHTSA is planning to begin a V2V study that looks at the feasibility of retrofitting older trucks in the near future.