I am quite earnest in stating the importance of standards to our smart, collision-avoiding and communicating cars. Nowadays inter- and intra-vehicle connectivity and interoperability are paramount to successful data exchange. In other words, our cars and the devices we bring into them must talk and listen to one another in ways they can understand. The Tower of Babel was a failure; we can’t have that again.
Vehicular safety systems put the stakes quite high. In but a few years, cars may be equipped with mandatory dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) radios, which when combined with GPS, enable accurate vehicle movements to be broadcast over several hundreds of meters. For DSRC to work, cars must talk and listen to one another in ways that their crash avoidance systems can understand. If they don’t, the life-saving potential extolled by regulatory and road authorities will not be realized.
Back to standards jargon: devices must be interoperable in all sorts of ways. Interfaces and standardization are essential – from radio channel selection, through layers of communication protocols, to the types of messages that are exchanged. Furthermore, when we invoke the infrastructure, cars may be able to communicate with traffic signals as their red, yellow or green states may be broadcast via DSRC. Therefore we must add another dialect and its rules to the safety communications grammar.
Clearly the days when the interface between cars was their bumpers – and between the car and the road were the tires – are behind us. In this brave new connected world, interoperability is not simply jargon; it will be essential. Automotive engineers must work with traffic engineers, and both must work with wireless engineers. (Yes, I am an engineer, but let’s not forget the policy makers and planners whose wise policy decisions and planning start and nurture interoperability.) And there’s more. If I am to listen to my neighboring vehicle, I had better trust it. Safety and security – and concomitant standards to ensure them – are in many ways the linchpin to a workable, scalable and therefore beneficial system.
This column is not a call to action, however. It is a call for reassurance. Worldwide standardization is already underway. (I am in fact writing this in the air, bound for Oslo to participate in one such standards meeting, where efforts from regional standards development organizations are working toward world harmonization on the inter-vehicle and V2I front.) Thankfully there are experts who fully understand what’s at stake and nod their heads knowingly at this tribute.
I therefore state with confidence that standards are important. Safety and standardized safety messages enable the, um, killer app. These apps are brought to us better, more cheaply and plug-and-play by standards. And standards experts make it all happen. Indeed, we are important (and I hope I’ve convinced you of that).