This year’s Connected Car Pavilion in Austin, Texas during SXSW featured the latest in automotive technologies, coupled with emerging new product categories that will aid in the advancement of transportation. Along with the coast-to-coast self-driving car and advanced aerial drone technologies on display, we were treated to a keynote address from NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind on the subject of safety technologies today and in the future.
“We’re here in Austin today to discuss how technology possesses a huge potential in offsetting the human behaviors that are responsible for a vast majority of the deaths happening on our highways,” said Dr. Rosekind. “Anyone at NHTSA can tell you by heart that 32,719 people lost their lives on U.S. roadways in 2013, each one of which was preventable. The safety technology and innovation here at the Connected Car Pavilion can help us address that grim statistic.”
Automotive safety technologies have helped to lessen the tragic result of car collisions for 50 years, according to Dr. Rosekind. “We have estimated that 613,501 lives have been saved since 1960 through dedicated safety technologies, from seat belts to collision warning to automated braking systems. We have also recently determined through our research that in 94 percent of cases, the critical element in the chain of events before a crash is the human driver. Technology offers a huge potential in mitigating this statistic.”
Recently, NHTSA has been involved with high-profile vehicle recalls concerning faulty airbags and ignition switches. Dr. Rosekind said that as technology progresses, “We are committed to making changes to find defects sooner and address them more effectively through the use of technology.”
Asked about the next great innovation in automotive safety, Dr. Rosekind explored the possibilities of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication. “What makes V2V and its counterpart, V2I, such an advancement over current crash avoidance systems is the exchange of speed and position information between vehicles even if a vehicle’s radar, cameras or other sensors cannot detect a threat. In common crash situations, left turn assist and intersection movement assist enabled through V2V and V2I can prevent up to 592,000 collisions and save more than 1,000 lives every year. And that’s just the beginning of what these technologies can do.”
The theoretical benefits of V2V technology are widely understood, but how does the U.S. succeed in actually implementing the technology? “The potential of V2V technology is thrilling, but to realize that potential there are challenges that we need to overcome,” explained Dr. Rosekind. “One of the first concerns we hear is that of data privacy and security. We are confident there are solutions to these problems but from a technical and legal standpoint, they’re tricky.”
Dr. Rosekind warns of other challenges in the implementation of V2V communication. “For V2V to work correctly, messages between vehicles need to be free from interference. Wise policymakers have reserved part of the communication spectrum specifically for V2V. Over a decade of public investment and industry work has gone into designing and testing systems that rely on the integrity of the spectrum.”
Here is where Dr. Rosekind has an important recommendation. “Even as we are poised to deliver the safety benefits of this innovation, some have suggested that unlicensed users should have unfettered access to the dedicated V2V spectrum. This can lead to interference of the communication between vehicles and could prevent a driver from receiving a critical message that would help avoid a deadly crash. We believe the technology can save lives, but we need a clear signal. We need those in the automotive tech industry to speak up on the subject.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), according to Dr. Rosekind, has a distinct vision for the future of personal mobility and has issued an assessment of where we are and where we are headed as a nation in transportation. Named “Beyond Traffic,” this assessment looks at increased population levels in the next 30 years as well as the way population centers are expected to shift. Transportation, as a product of total GDP, is expected to represent $1.6 trillion of the $36.7 trillion U.S. economy forecasted by 2045, with connected vehicles, robotics and next-generation communication technologies expected to enable people and freight to move more efficiently than today.
With autonomous vehicles on the horizon, Dr. Rosekind offers an optimistic assessment of the safety requirements. “Further down the road, we look forward to the potential of fully-automated, self-driving vehicles,” he said. “This will require a very rigorous and careful approach to ensure safety. Before offering fully autonomous vehicles for sale to the general public, we have to realize that these vehicles don’t eliminate the potential for error; they shift the error from the driver to the vehicle. This is why we are engaged in research on how to best ensure the quality and operation of the electronic components that control safety critical functions and keep these functions secure.”
With all of the challenges ahead in the connected car and advanced mobility space, it is still exciting to ponder the possibilities that technology can present to the world of transportation, now and in the future. “This is a revolutionary moment in automotive history,” said Dr. Rosekindand, “and we at NHTSA are revolutionaries.”