Opportunity Across the Silos

A take-away from TIA’s Connected Car Workshop is that opportunity exists for those who manage to shatter the silos of once disparate disciplines surrounding the transport of people and goods. That is, the transportation industry is on a cusp of a major revolution that will be manifested through connected vehicles, combined with increasing automation that eventually leads to elimination of the driver.

In the above interview, TIA CEO, Scott Belcher, provides highlights of this one day conference held in conjunction with the Contra Costa Transit Authority’s (CCTA) unveiling of its GoMentum Station Connected Vehicle / Autonomous Vehicle Program test facility. With a size of approximately 1/5 that of San Francisco, and with real world obstacles, like train crossings and streetlights, GoMentum provides a real-world testing platform in what was the Concord Naval Weapons Test Station.

Belcher also discusses why the Telecommunications Industry Association would organize a conference that is ostensibly about autonomous automobiles. As Andreas Mai of Cisco pointed out, even though telecommunications will account for a small portion of the physical footprint, it will be a critical part of the operation for both connected and autonomous cars. Mai suggests the bandwidth demands will go from 1.5 to 300 Gbytes per car (stay tuned for a future issue with an exclusive interview with Mai).

Although automobiles can potentially work as stand-alone entities, to get the most system benefit (e.g. traffic throughput, pollution reduction, cost savings), V2X (Vehicle to Vehicle, Vehicle to Pedestrian and Vehicle to Infrastructure) will be an important element. This raises questions of what entities will create the last-mile backhaul (e.g. municipal entities, private communications providers).

Another serious issue is spectrum. Comcast and others are vying for and claim that 5.9 GHz spectrum, earmarked originally for DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications), can be shared for extended WiFi application. Conference speakers, both from private and government entities, doubted whether this spectrum can be shared without harming the mission-critical nature and low-latency requirements of connected vehicles (e.g. imagine the tragedy that would result from an interrupted “brake” signal from a platoon of closely spaced cars).

Hand-in-hand with the importance of reliability, there was consensus of the importance of integrating security from the beginning and not as an after-thought; this can’t be like a SPAM filter that prevents most, but not all, of the bad messages from a user’s inbox.

The transition from Level 0 to Level 4 autonomy will be a decades-long evolution, but automobile manufacturers and entrepreneurs are making the investments now for changes that will be seen in three or four years. Several speakers suggested that the tipping point for autonomy could occur as early as the year 2020.

In his first speaking appearance since launching the TORQ, a windowless and autonomous race car at the Geneva Auto Show, ED Design’s Creative Director and CEO, Michael Robinson, reiterated his mission that the automobile industry has to stop killing people. He emphasized that there needs to be a multi-discipline, cross-industry effort to speed the research to achieve that objective (more on that in a future interview with Robinson).

Along these lines of the future of automobiles and the decision-making that is an implicit part of autonomy, one panelist suggested that it is time to start inviting ethicists to events such as this one. It will take both a wide and deep view for society and individuals to get the most out of autonomous vehicles and this event was an excellent step forward in knocking down the silos that could be hurdles to an autonomous vehicle future.

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