Many in the automotive business have been waiting for just such a standard.
“I’m happy the U.S. government is pushing the regulation,” said Lars Reger, chief technology officer of NXP Semiconductor’s automotive business unit. “It’s a big catalyst.”
General Motors isn’t waiting for the final mandate. It just announced that, starting this month, its 2017 Cadillac CTS will be the first car to use short-range communication for alerts between vehicles up to 1,000 feet apart. The warnings will include alarms about disabled cars and vehicles that are braking hard ahead, as well as slippery road conditions.
The trouble is, only other Cadillac CTS drivers with the same system will see the alerts.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz find themselves in similar circumstances. Both companies offer hazard warning systems on certain models, but they can communicate only with specific car models with identical systems. Furthermore, BMW and Mercedes do not use the short-range technology but rely instead on existing cellular networks to transmit alerts.
Some automakers, as well as wireless carriers and chip makers, think that cellular systems will be better suited to handling vehicle-to-vehicle communications in the future. And, they say, cellular networks can handle connections to devices like smart traffic lights, tolls and other parts of the transportation infrastructure — so-called vehicle-to-everything or V2X communications. Most of these companies have their eyes on future 5G networks, which promise more capacity and broadband connections 10 times faster than is available today.
“You have to consider the scale aspect,” said Nakul Duggal, who manages the automotive portfolio for Qualcomm. “How do you do it with street furniture — signs and traffic lights — in future smart cities?” Cellular networks can also share information about traffic situations miles ahead.
Jaguar Land Rover is working with a Chicago-based start-up, HAAS Alert, to explore delivering automatic warnings about emergency vehicles to other drivers.
“We want people to know 40 to 50 seconds ahead,” said Cory James Hohs, chief executive of HAAS, “so we’re using what’s available today, and that’s cellular.” Not only could drivers be warned about ambulances, for example, but they could also get alerts about trains at crossings.
As of today, there is no official 5G specification, and Mr. Duggal does not expect to see a substantial transition from 4G to 5G systems until 2022 or 2023.
Engineers have been working for over a decade on specifications for dedicated short-range communications devices. Tests last year in Michigan with more than a half-dozen major automakers helped persuade the national highway agency to push for new regulations.
Harman, a unit of Samsung that supplies communications equipment to automakers, says some car companies have expressed interest in using dedicated short-range communications, or D.S.R.C., devices, while others are taking a more passive approach.
“I don’t know if N.H.T.S.A. itself can be the catalyst,” said Mike Tzamaloukas, vice president for navigation technologies at Harman, “but they can make it more urgent.”
With Wi-Fi already in many connected cars, the short-range systems may be less of a stretch because the specification and its radio frequencies are essentially an extension of Wi-Fi. That may help keep down the cost of adding the capability to new cars.
By directly communicating between vehicles, the short-range systems are not slowed down by having to communicate with cellular base stations. They would also work in the large parts of rural America that do not have cellular service. Moreover, they could also be rolled out without any major infrastructure investments.
Designers working on the forthcoming 5G specification point out that it now also includes direct vehicle-to-vehicle communications that do not depend on a separate cell network. Mr. Duggal of Qualcomm said such direct 5G communications should be up to twice as fast as dedicated short-range communications devices; that could prove critical in delivering warnings in some situations, such as when a driver is trying to pass a vehicle on a highway while another car is approaching from the opposite direction at 65 or 75 miles per hour.
Wireless carriers also point out that 5G is a forward-looking platform that could be used to handle demanding, high-bandwidth applications like transmitting a video feed from a car’s onboard camera to the internet to collect information about road conditions.
Verizon has already begun to lay out its 5G plans, starting an 11-city test this year that will include Dallas, Denver, Sacramento and Washington, said Marc Tracey, a company spokesman.
Ultimately, some combination of short-range and 5G communications may be necessary to make vehicle-to-vehicle connections work reliably.
“Both 5G and D.S.R.C. are fundamental to the current and future direction of in-car connectivity,” said Barry Napier, chief executive of Cubic Telecom, which is working on connected car systems with companies like Audi. The value of dedicated short-range communications devices, according to Mr. Napier, is the exclusive focus on automotive safety, whereas 5G is intended to handle everything from voice to smart devices — and it is not expected to arrive until 2020, around the time autonomous vehicles are expected to make their debut.
Cadillac says that V2V technology is important to the development of autonomous vehicles, pointing to the introduction of its Super Cruise semiautonomous option, expected this year. But improving driver safety now is the impetus behind introducing the short-range systems today.
“That’s why we’re not going to just wait until someone tells us we can do this,” said Chris Bonelli, who handles communications for advanced technology at G.M.
“There’s a strong personal motivation for this,” said Rupert Poole, senior collaborations manager for future technology at Jaguar Land Rover. “When people ask, can we really expect to save lives with this, the answer is a resounding yes.”