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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


The road to autonomy

The road leading to self-driving vehicles is still under construction.  With billions of dollars being spent by auto manufacturers and tech giants, the route of that thoroughfare is established, but the grading, gravelling and paving is far from finished.

Autonomous systems with artificial driving intelligence are being tested in vehicles throughout U.S. cities right now.  Still, for those vehicles to perform at optimum efficiency, more is needed besides a car that can stay in its lanes and avoid obstacles.

So, the first phase — creating vehicles that can safely drive themselves — is well under way.  What’s still needed for full implementation however, are two more phases:  communication of vehicles to one another and vehicle connection to infrastructure.

Early computers were adept at word processing, accounting and data analysis.  But to share information widely and quickly, something else was needed and it came in the form of the Internet.  With that, desktop computing evolved into what it is today — meaningful connection to information and computers throughout the world.

With the first step — autos that can operate like driver-equipped ones — virtually accomplished, it’s time to establish phase two, vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V) and phase three, vehicle to infrastructure connection (V2I).

In current tests, one of the most common self-driving vehicle accidents happens when an autonomous vehicle is rear ended.  With a V2V link, that could not happen.  The trailing vehicle would not be tailgating and would be “aware” of the leading vehicles slowing and stoppage in order to slow and stop itself without a collision.

Phase two connection to one another would allow sharing of crucial safety data such as blind spot warnings, red-light runners and proximity of school buses or emergency vehicles.  It is estimated that nearly 80% of crashes could be eliminated by enabling V2V connection.

General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz have all taken steps toward implementation of dedicated short range communication or DSRC.

Once vehicles can “talk” to each other, they must be able to connect to what surrounds them.  This V2I connection will be accomplished by linking vehicles to sensors in and aside the road, along with traffic signals, signs and other elements of the driving environment.

Phase three projects to realize a reality of infrastructure connection will not be cheap or easy.  They will likely, as traditional with major infrastructure investment, depend on spending by government and its agencies.

It remains to be seen whether cash-short government entities can take on the cost of mass sensor installation in addition to the current burden of roadway maintenance.  Or in this case, will the expense be borne by a consortium of governments (federal, state, municipal), auto manufacturers and other tech entities?  Time will tell.

All indicators — led by the massive research, development and testing efforts by multiple entities — suggest that there will be autonomous cars and trucks in our collective future.  The quandary that remains is how soon, if ever, will the necessary three phases — vehicle, V2V and V2I be fully enabled.

During our early introduction to computerization, few could imagine what we now have three decades later.  And today, few of us can imagine a day without Internet connectivity.  Perhaps in the not-too-distant future we’ll marvel at a similar advancement in our vehicular mobility.  It will surely depend on phase two and three:  V2V and V2I connection.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at