Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology has been proving its merits in one field test after another for nearly 10 years, but recently the technology has really started to take off. What was the pivotal moment for V2X? Some experts might say it was when Tesla launched its innovative Autopilot feature in 2014, signaling that autonomous driving was on the horizon. Others might say the seminal moment came last year when the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy and when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) followed that policy by issuing a proposed rule “that would advance the deployment of connected vehicle technologies throughout the U.S. light vehicle fleet.”

The NHTSA’s proposed rule creates a mandate for V2X or V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) communication technology in all new cars and lightweight trucks. The momentum for V2X technology is building.

The nuts and bolts

What is V2X technology? V2X technology enables communication between a vehicle and anything in the environment that may affect it, including other vehicles (V2V), surrounding infrastructure, like traffic lights (vehicle-to-infrastructure, or V2I), and even phones (vehicle-to-phone, which enables communication between cars and pedestrians holding a smartphone). Compared to camera and LiDAR sensors, V2X sensors offer greater range, around-corner viewing capabilities, through-objects view functionality, the ability to share real-time driving information with other vehicles and roadside equipment, and the ability to generate predictive insights. Also, V2X is the only sensor that is not affected or influenced by weather conditions like fog and heavy rain or harsh sunbeams.

V2V technology provides 360-degree situational awareness on the road to enhance safety. According to the DOT — and validated by numerous trials [University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP), and others] — V2V technology will prevent 80 percent of all traffic accidents. In the U.S. alone, that could prevent up to 594 thousand crashes and save up to 1,321 lives every year. Few technologies have the potential life-saving impact that V2X offers. Furthermore, the economic benefits to the United States are expected to reach $71 billion per year. From national government agencies to city transportation departments to automakers, every sector of the transportation market has taken notice of V2X technology.

Why we need connected cars

With V2V technology, cars talk with each other by exchanging data wirelessly over an unlicensed spectrum called the Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) band, which is similar to Wi-Fi technology, or by using 5G technology. The V2V transportation safety and efficiency applications run the same on either network. V2V technology enables cars to relay real-time information about their location and heading to prevent traffic collisions. It also reduces traffic congestion, thereby shortening drive times and improving the overall transportation environment.

V2I technology enables the wireless exchange of data between vehicles and roadway infrastructure, with such key applications as intersection safety, speed management, e-tolling, transit safety and operations, and work-zone or low-bridge warnings. This technology has the potential to transform infrastructure equipment — including stoplights and weather information systems — into smart infrastructure by incorporating algorithms that recognize high-risk situations while they are developing and respond with driver warnings and countermeasures.

V2P technology enables pedestrians and bicyclists to be active participants in a V2X environment by using their smartphone to send and receive alerts, communicating with transit infrastructure like crosswalk signals if individuals need more time or alerting cars that a pedestrian is in the upcoming crosswalk or that a bicyclist is in the adjacent bike lane.

Autonomous cars are, as the name suggests, designed to be independent. They’re loaded with advanced sensors that constantly tell them about their immediate driving environment. V2X is one of the many sensors being installed in new cars, trucks, and streetcars.

However, V2X sensors in vehicles and infrastructure offer considerably more information about the driving environment than other sensors, and even provide predictive information. This is possible because V2X-enabled cars and trucks receive more precise road conditions, traffic information, and so forth before the car or truck even reaches a specific area, allowing the driver or auto-pilot to make the right decision every time. V2X not only provides insights for real-time driving, it also tells you about the entire journey from Point A to Point B.

A bridge to the future

Unlike other sensors, V2X sensors can be easily added into existing cars and trucks, similar to the way consumers first adopted GPS portable navigation devices — aftermarket devices that sit on the vehicle’s dashboard. This is important because not every car is going to turn into an autonomous vehicle overnight. As more V2X-enabled cars hit the streets and the V2X network becomes stronger, more information can be shared between autonomous and legacy cars. V2X users benefit from the network effect principle: V2X is designed to be a collaborative technology that gets stronger with each node that’s added to the network, like the internet. As a result, V2X lays an important foundation for autonomous cars, along with benefiting the 253 million mostly non-autonomous cars and trucks that travel on U.S. roads today.

As the government and industry continue to move forward, implementing new technologies in the transportation system and moving toward fully autonomous cars, it must be done in a safe manner, one that protects the public and the integrity of our transportation system while advancing innovation to meet the future needs of industry and society. Everyone working in this exciting field has a responsibility to ensure that automated and non-automated vehicles can safely co-exist on the same roadways.

While V2X technology is proven to enhance vehicle and pedestrian safety today, it also lays a foundation of safeguards that will help make Level 3 autonomous cars a reality. Cars talking to other cars, to roadside infrastructure, and to bicyclists and pedestrians creates a collaborative transportation environment in which the collective data benefits all. Today, we see V2X technology being deployed in Smart Cities like Tampa, Florida, and being planned for automotive manufacturers’ 2018 and 2019 model year cars and trucks. With the technology advancing across the board, it’s only a matter of time before it reaches mainstream adoption.

Ravi Puvvala is the CEO of Savari, a company that makes V2X technology.