Cars have always communicated with their drivers in rudimentary, yet effective ways.
An interior light won’t go dark? You probably left a door open. Low on gas? A needle points to an orange “E.” In the 1980s, some cars, like Nissan Maximas, actually spoke to drivers by spinning tiny vinyl records, warning them that a door was ajar or that the parking brake was still on. Today, before you get out of your car, a message probably pops up on the dash reminding you not to forget your cell phone.
What Is Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Technology?
At the same time cars share these private reminders and warnings with their drivers, drivers, in turn, are publicly communicating with one another. Although there’s no official language, drivers have figured out a pretty solid set of honks, beeps, light flickering and hand gestures — polite and otherwise — to keep traffic moving.
But in the next few years, new onboard sensors, cameras and networking capabilities could make it so cars can directly communicate with one another to make roads easier and safer to travel on. And communication won’t only happen between cars.
In what’s commonly referred to as vehicle-to-everything, or V2X, technology, these advances will allow cars to connect and communicate with pedestrians and bicyclists, traffic signals and road signs, and cities and municipalities, strengthening the link to their surroundings while alerting cars and their drivers about real-time trouble, from potholes in need of repair to traffic slowdowns related to weather and congestion.
What Is Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Technology?
Vehicle-to-everything technology consists of the sensors, cameras and wireless connectivity — like WiFi, radio frequencies and LTE and 5G cellular technology — that would allow cars to connect to and communicate with their drivers and surroundings.
With V2X, onboard sensors collect driving data like speed and location and then transmit that information to nearby cars. Computers on those vehicles then process that data to alert their drivers of potential hazards. But it wouldn’t be limited to communication between vehicles: Stop lights, too, could broadcast information to cars, essentially providing a countdown for when the light will turn red. Smartphones or watches could also receive and broadcast data from nearby cars to alert pedestrians and bicycle riders who have opted in to the V2X network.
“Connectivity is really the Holy Grail.”
Currently, V2X technology is very piecemeal. While sensors, cameras and networks all exist, they’re not really working together to link cars with one another or their surroundings to make driving safer. Many cars on the road today don’t have the capability to send and receive data to one another unless they’re the same model. And large-scale networks like LTE and 5G, which would effectively bridge the gap between vehicles, infrastructure and pedestrians, so they could actually communicate, aren’t being utilized yet.
“Typically, you have all this technology, but if it can’t communicate reliably, it’s hard to make the application work,” Todd Rigby, director of sales at Rajant, a mobile network infrastructure company, told Built In.
Using wireless mesh networks to manage and maintain broadband connectivity, Rajant connects vehicles to one another and to infrastructure for use in mining, construction and logistics, specifically freight applications.
“Connectivity is really the Holy Grail,” Rigby said. “Can you maintain continuous connectivity? And over what ranges? And can you have reasonably consistent throughput?”
In Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Technology, What Exactly Does ‘Everything’ Mean?
- V2V: Vehicle to vehicle
- V2I: Vehicle to infrastructure, like traffic signals
- V2P: Vehicle to pedestrians (and bicyclists)
- V2N: Vehicle to network, like LTE and 5G
- V2X: Vehicle to vehicle, infrastructure, pedestrian and network
While some cars use radar, LiDAR and other sensing technology to warn drivers when they get too close to the car ahead of them, or if they may hit something when they’re backing up, few have the ability to talk to one another. The hope is that one day, new cars on the road will not only be able to reliably relay information back and forth, but that they’ll also be able to communicate with traffic signals, pedestrians, bicyclists and city-wide networks. By bridging this communication gap, roadways may become less dangerous.
According to Rigby, the technology will have substantial advantages over using radar and LiDAR exclusively, as it allows drivers to factor in not only what their own car sensors are observing but also what cars around them are likely to do in response to unexpected obstacles.
Advantages of V2X
The main benefit of V2X technology is safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 43,000 people died in car accidents last year in the United States.
“There are so many accidents today that could be prevented,” Maite Bezerra, an automotive industry analyst recently told the New York Times. “And with advanced warnings of traffic jams and red lights reducing sudden braking, fuel efficiency will also be improved.”
But for V2X to increase safety, vehicles, infrastructure, pedestrians and cities will need to be equipped with sensors — and they’ll have to be reliable.
“There are so many accidents today that could be prevented.”
Miles Flamenbaum, CEO of Actasys, a company that specializes in maintaining sensor functionality and works with car manufacturers like Volvo, told Built In that while sensors are being used more widely in V2X applications, they don’t come without their issues.
“If that sensor isn’t properly prepared for adverse weather conditions or adverse operating conditions where it can widely operate without losing data then you have a challenge,” Flamenbaum said. “You end up with data that ultimately, under certain conditions, isn’t trustworthy.”
And this sensor data is key to V2X functionality — it’s also critical to the future of autonomous and self-driving vehicles — but according to Flamenbaum, what appears to still be missing is coordination of data streams between both the vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure.
“Coordinating the infrastructure with the vehicle, we know it’s coming,” Flamenbaum said. “We hear our customers talk about increasing that capability in the vehicle to connect to infrastructure. And I think that’s going to be your next hurdle.”
Issues With V2X
For all the possibilities V2X offers in terms of making driving safer and easier, the technology doesn’t come without potential downsides, especially when it comes to driver data.
Like any technology where hordes of data is gathered and stored, there’s always going to be a risk that hackers will find a way inside V2X systems to steal that information or even hold the network hostage. And then there’s just the general privacy concerns related to car companies, or municipalities, or those managing the infrastructure having access to your driving data and driving habits, even if safety and efficiency are improved.
But while privacy and security are valid concerns — and drivers will navigate them just like they do in almost every other data-driven industry — the immediate future of V2X really centers on two things: the regulatory landscape and consumers.
The biggest issue with V2X technology right now may be on the regulatory side.
In August, a circuit court judge sided with the Federal Communications Commission, after the agency, in 2020, reclaimed some of the radio spectrum originally allocated in 1999 for use by “intelligent transportation systems,” like V2V and V2X technologies, to meet the spectrum demands of Wi-Fi routers and other devices. Though the FCC argued that more than enough megahertz for safety-related functions was still available, the automotive industry wasn’t happy and sought to stop it claiming that the FCC’s action was “arbitrary and capricious.” The judge disagreed and dismissed the claim.
“The problem, as hilariously put by Judge Justin Walker in his opinion, is that this technology has never really existed,” The Verge’s Andrew J. Hawkins wrote when reporting on the court’s decision. “It was one of those ‘just around the corner’-type innovations that has always been promised but never actually delivered. It was a fantasy, and today, the court’s basically said as much.”
But debates between the government and the automotive industry aside, it’s likely consumers who will have the final say when it comes to their cars’ connection to everything.
People are not really considering whether a car can communicate with its surroundings when shopping for a new car, according to Grant Feek, CEO of TRED, an online car marketplace.
Buyers are usually thinking about acceleration or handling, maybe even style and the status a car evokes, or they take a more practical approach, looking for a good deal, good mileage and safety, Feek told Built In.
“Most drivers probably fall somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum, and tend to value safety and fuel efficiency, as well as enough technology and features to provide comfort and convenience in day-to-day use,” Feek said. “Given current interest rates, and generally higher car prices, most car buyers are also more mindful of cost than they might have previously been.”
“Those who are ultra technology-oriented probably know what [V2X] is, and it may affect their purchasing decisions, but my sense is that most people aren’t yet familiar with it.”
Cost could become one of many barriers to greater adoption. If V2X is paired with an upcharge, Feek believes consumers may not be convinced of its value unless car companies can clearly and effectively market the benefits. There’s also the potential for hackers to tap into V2X systems and privacy concerns drivers may have related to the monitoring and sharing of their driving routes and habits, Feek said.
But the primary barrier in Feek’s eyes is that most drivers don’t know V2X technology even exists. (Only a few cars like the 2017 Mercedes E-Class and Cadillac’s CTS sedans are equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure capabilities.)
“Those who are ultra technology-oriented probably know what [V2X] is, and it may affect their purchasing decisions, but my sense is that most people aren’t yet familiar with it,” Feek said.
But he’s confident that drivers will someday want what V2X technology has to offer, especially when it comes to capabilities around traffic-aware route optimization and hazard avoidance. But not without a lot of stars aligning first.
“In the future, V2X likely will be a compelling feature that car buyers will want, if it becomes widely supported by municipalities and vendors who can make it useful and relevant through supporting infrastructure and real-world benefits,” Feek said.