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US to help cars talk, not babble

by David Zatz on

At long last, the Transportation Department has set up rules for cars and trucks to chat with each other. Vehicle to vehicle communications (“V2V”) have been talked about for many years, but without clear standards — which the DOT had expected to be settled by private industry — they would be little more than a curiosity or company sales gimmick.

The new DOT rule, which still has to undergo public hearings before being established as law, also lets cars speak with traffic lights, signs, and such.  Vehicles can transmit their velocity, direction, and location up to ten times per second, so other cars will know if they are in danger of hitting a car that’s coming around a blind turn, coming to a sudden stop, or otherwise about to cause a crash.  The other cars can take action to warn the driver or stop their car.

The DOT has been working with automakers for over ten years on the project, which requires agreement on how to send messages clearly, in uniform language — not unlike Internet protocols for mail or file transfer. The Federal Highway Administration has also been working with the DOT and automakers, to create standards for traffic lights, stop signs, and such — including traffic lights that don’t just tell cars about their activity, but also can let drivers through uncrowded intersections without stopping (a boon to anyone who has had to wait for numerous two-minute-long red lights when there is nobody else around).  The range is around a thousand yards.

After the 90 day comment period, it should take about a year for the final rules to be established. The ideal is for all new cars to use the system within five years of now; it will take many years before a critical mass of new cars are on the road (and even then, owners of older cars may find themselves waiting for red lights while new cars speed through).

Both Cadillac and Mercedes will be making cars with the system in the 2017 model year, before the rule is finalized.

The proposal requires at least 128-bit encryption (which is likely insufficient, long-term). Messages do not contain information about the vehicle or its owner, other than its actions. Originally, a specific radio frequency was set aside for the technology, but the FCC is planning to give that away to WiFi as well.

Note: The photos are irrelevant filler.

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