Days earlier, Toyota, one of the auto industry’s strongest proponents of using dedicated short-range communications messages, said it would postpone plans to equip all new vehicles with radios to transmit DSRC messages by 2021. It left conference participants wondering about the future of the technology. In some cases, agencies have installed roadside units to carry these messages.
“We do not want to be in a situation where we’re picking between Betamax versus VHS,” said Tom Byron, chief engineer at the Florida Department of Transportation. “It makes us very uncomfortable from a DOT perspective, because we may be investing millions of dollars in something that’s never going to be used.”
“We were past the drop-dead time on a decision to put this in, and felt like we had to be honest about what our plans are and how they’ve changed,” Ed Bradley, a program manager in Toyota’s regulatory affairs department, told the conference. “But it in no way, shape or form diminishes our support for DSRC and what we’re thinking and doing as we look to the future.”
DSRC advocates see Toyota’s decision as a setback, but not the end of the road.
“It’s key that they’re pushing the ‘pause’ button,” said Greg Winfree, executive director of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “It’s not the ‘eject’ button. It’s not the ‘We’re going to find a new technology’ button. It’s ‘We still believe in this technology and the power of connected vehicles to save lives and reduce injuries.’ ”
But automakers are hesitant to pay for additional equipment, especially if their competitors are not mandated to do the same. Because they already install equipment for cellular connectivity, Bluetooth, LTE and 4G LTE, and even SiriusXM, they’re reluctant to add another radio.
“How do we guarantee [improved] safety when their motivation is profit from getting as much content into the vehicle and obtaining data from the vehicle,” said Jim Barbaresso, national practice leader for intelligent transportation at HNTB, a consulting firm that advises clients on infrastructure projects. “It’s going to be this tug of war between those two things.”
Toyota isn’t the only automaker caught in the middle. Last June, General Motors said it would install DSRC-based V2X communications systems in a “high-volume Cadillac crossover” by 2023, and then extend the technology throughout the brand’s lineup. But in recent comments to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the automaker hedged, saying, “DSRC has demonstrated the technical capability” while adding that cellular technology “also holds promise”
One potential solution might be to install dual-mode equipment capable of discerning safety messages sent via DSRC or cellular methods. Suppliers such as Bosch and Continental have developed and marketed such capabilities. Benefits from a so-called interoperable system might allow automakers to launch V2X systems now without waiting for the technology battle to play out. It might also add a layer of redundancy over the long term.
But Hongsheng Lu, a Toyota researcher speaking at the conference, cast doubt on the viability of such an approach.