There’s a real and growing risk that multinational auto, telecom and computing firms could choke off the safety benefits of connected vehicles by withholding data
By Jenny Simonsen, Q-Free
The outdoor demonstration at this year’s ITS World Congress in Melbourne, Australia is the first implementation anywhere in the world on live intersections of Connected ITS (C-ITS) technology and applications which use open standards.
C-ITS describes the environment wherein vehicles, roadside infrastructure and nomadic smart devices interact to achieve greater increases – by comparison with previous-generation intelligent transport systems – in road safety, emissions control and congestion management.
The technology selected to support the Melbourne demo supports full hybrid, ETSI/ISO/IEEE-standard communications. The ability to use systems from different manufacturers that could readily interface with each other was a selection criteria for the Congress’s organisers.
Open standards solutions, as exemplified by the Melbourne demo, underscore an important point: that, after several decades of research and development work involving large numbers of organizations working jointly, we are a point where roads and local authorities can enjoy a supplier-agnostic choice of C-ITS technologies. These technologies will allow those public sector authorities to realize the gains promised by C-ITS. They also open the way to conformal driving and the use of driverless vehicles.
We are at an important stepping-off point for mobility but not all in the future is certain or even positive.
There is resistance from the car industry to the widespread application of an open C-ITS architecture and standards. The car manufacturers are concerned that such an environment will provide outsiders with too much access to ‘their’ in-vehicle data (as an aside, an open architecture environment would force change in terms of the quality and security of their data systems — changes which, arguably, should be taking place anyway). Also, car manufacturers feel that they are no longer making enough profit from the traditional ‘metal box with wheels’. They want a stake in the information provision market, and the solution they would prefer is proprietary links to their own cloud-based services.
The car manufacturers are joined in their ambitions by the big telecoms companies, which include some monopolistic, national operators. These would provide the cloud solutions and, like the car companies, they are keen to enjoy annual subscriptions for data services.
A third group of actors resides within the ICT industry. Typified by Google and Apple, these have no tradition of standardization and have livelihoods based on proprietary, garden-walled solutions. They will, however, work with the car and telecoms companies to promote niche services.
In short, an open C-ITS architecture represents a loss of potential business and there is a very powerful group of organizations actively lobbying to stop public-service applications being realized. The European Commission’s (EC’s) ITS Directive states that there should be a common architecture but the above group has forced delay. If it is ultimately successful, a lot of the promise of C-ITS will not be realized.
Part of the idea of C-ITS systems is that information from within vehicles can be shared directly with roadside systems, and public authorities can gain real-time access to information on such as developing potholes, congestion buildup, adverse weather conditions and other rapidly changing hazardous conditions. The car/telecom/ICT companies’ vision is of data being backhauled via the cloud, where it is filtered and processed in a central location and then sold back to potential users. The dilemma is that there is plenty enough bandwidth for information exchanges at the roadside/local level but nowhere near enough for all vehicles if their data is being processed at a global level; not only is there the questionable morality of selling safety-related data, there is also the fact that the time-critical nature of much of the information being talked about here will be compromised — it simply will not be disseminated back to the public-sector agencies who require it in time to be useable.
The relative fortunes of roadside and in-vehicle systems have waxed and waned in line with economic outlook and technological progress. Delays to deployment caused by recession have also had the fortuitous but coincidental effect of allowing technologies to evolve. Had we seen C-ITS deployments that, within the timeframes envisioned a decade or two ago would have been far more technology-heavy than what we are seeing emerging now. There remains though little doubt that the fullest benefits of C-ITS will be realized with both vehicular and infrastructural, as distinct from vehicle-only, elements interacting.
An irony is that in order to facilitate the take-up of self-driving cars, the same manufacturers who are advocating some form of ‘exclusivity’ are also demanding infrastructure improvements which would benefit their products. Self-driving vehicles which use vision-based systems for positional purposes need good-quality road markings to follow, for example.
The solutions are far from cut and dried, whatever the marketing material might say, and we are seeing fight-back. Roads and local authorities are alert to the dangers and, in Europe, DG MOVE’s ITS Deployment Platform could yet force the incorporation into vehicles of an onboard port for accessing data for C-ITS purposes. There are precedents. The On-Board Diagnostics port for vehicle emission data is now ubiquitous in all vehicles globally, but the fight to get it installed is similar to the resistance we see now. Also, previously, several car manufacturers had objected to the deployment in Europe of the eCall system, arguing that they already provided their customers with similar breakdown and emergency support services. The EC’s response was to tell the vehicle manufacturers that they were perfectly entitled to continue to offer differentiated products but that eCall fitment would nevertheless be mandatory.
It is a high-stakes game. Safety will not be improved if the lobbyists are successful – at worst, we will continue to enjoy an environment broadly as safe as it is now. The issue is whether profit for a small number of organizations should be allowed to compromise further safety improvements. The debate should be being conducted with a far greater level of public scrutiny than we are experiencing at present.