When cars talk, accidents, emissions and traffic congestion reduce

Mircon Technology | March 2019

A car darts into your path. A pedestrian wearing dark clothes at night scurries across the street. A truck emerges from the thick fog as you barrel toward it.

Every driver knows the terrible sensation. Fear and adrenaline race up your spine, and you slam on the brakes. With luck or skill, you don’t hear that awful crunching of metal or feel the thud of impact. Hopefully, you and everybody else are unharmed.

But too often, those moments lead to accidents. There were 1.35 million traffic fatalities in the world in 2018, according to the most recent World Health Organization report on road safety, and traffic accidents were the leading killer among the 5–29 age group. That’s 1.35 million people jerked away from their families and friends, here one day, gone the next.

However, experts are optimistic that emerging technology can drastically reduce those spine-chilling moments, as well as the traffic fatalities and heartbreak that come with them. Today’s new vehicles already feature blind spot detection, lane departure warning, lane keeping technology and automatic emergency braking. With these and other automated driver assistance systems (ADAS), the future is here.

The next wave of ADAS innovation will be brought about by vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication and vehicle-to-anything (V2X) communication, or in human speak, the technology allowing vehicles to listen and talk to each other. Cars talking to each other may sound silly, but it turns out they should be having many conversations — with pedestrians, bikers, other vehicles, the street grid and obstacles that pop into harm’s way.

V2x Infographic

How It Works

V2X communication relies on a combination of technologies:

  • Sensors installed on vehicles that communicate with the environment
  • Wireless connectivity that allows vehicles to interact with other vehicles, surrounding infrastructure, GPS maps, and pedestrians
  • NAND and DRAM memory providing both local storage in vehicles and enabling the near instantaneous movement of data needed to inform and run these systems

Diverse automotive applications use a comprehensive portfolio of auto-qualified memory solutions. And with greater than 40 percent market share and 28 years commitment to the automotive market, Micron is the undisputed leading supplier of memory to this market. That means Micron is well positioned to help deploy the next wave of ADAS solutions, V2X technology.

Micron will deliver its essential automotive-grade memory in the requisite small form factor, in coordination with leading V2X chipset suppliers. These chipset suppliers will vie for market share in an emerging industry that will soon generate billions in yearly revenue and, more importantly, help reduce significantly the number of accidents.

In fact, by 2024, automotive industry bodies (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Society of Automotive Engineers) are expected to require vehicles to offer certain V2X features to receive a full, five-star safety rating. That mandate will likely ensure that a high percentage of new cars have V2X capability, says Robert Bielby, V2X expert and senior director of automotive system architecture in Micron’s Embedded Business Unit. Some automakers plan to unveil V2X technology before then.

When regulators approve use of fully automated vehicles, V2X is likely to be the technological foundation for these vehicles. “V2X will have a dramatic effect,” Bielby says. “This is pretty profound stuff.” In the meantime, V2X will almost surely advance ADAS, which experts say will reduce traffic fatalities, congestion, travel time and even vehicle emissions.

See Like Superman

Humans are pretty lousy at environmental awareness compared with sensors hooked up to computers.

  • Human drivers get drowsy. Sensors don’t.
  • Human drivers text and drive. Sensors don’t
  • Human drivers drink coffee and eat food while driving. Sensors don’t.
  • Human drivers chat with passengers. Sensors don’t.
  • Human drivers can get distracted by things that catch their eye. Sensors don’t.
  • Human drivers get frustrated and drive aggressively. Sensors don’t.

A single vehicle with V2X technology that can alert its driver to hazards before that driver can see them will reduce the chance for an accident. Giving a fleet of cars the ability to warn each other about hazards could cause a sea change in auto safety, Bielby says. “Even the status of traffic lights can be communicated by V2X,” Bielby adds. “This is just another example of how Superman achieves his X-Ray vision.”

Of the 6 million vehicle accidents in the U.S. alone every year,” Bielby says, “an estimated 90 percent are preventable, meaning that most accidents were caused by human error according to a report on distracted driving published by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. V2X technology is expected to reduce human error and save many of those lives. V2X aims toward solving this problem, because the computer doesn’t get tired,” he commented. “You’ve got 360-degree views with your cameras, your radar, your lidar and your ultrasound. Now we throw in technology that allows cars to talk to each other, and autonomous driving becomes even that much more effective.”

Cars talking to each other may sound silly, but it turns out they should be having many conversations — with pedestrians, bikers, other vehicles, the street grid and obstacles that pop into harm’s way.

According to Bielby, in addition to mass adoption of V2X technology expected by 2024, a market will likely emerge to retrofit older vehicles with at least some V2X capabilities.

Pedestrians, Bicycles and Motorcycles

The safety benefits from V2X could even expand when applied to vulnerable, nonautomotive users of roads and streets — pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles.

Motorcycles will likely adopt devices built into the machine frames, just like autos, even if they aren’t included in the 2024 V2X mandate, Bielby says. The reason is simple: riding a motorcycle is dangerous and adopting V2X technology can help minimize motorcycle accidents.

Motorcyclist knows the risks that come with only two wheels, but any seasoned rider will say the scariest risks come from other drivers on the road. According to Autotalks, a V2X solutions company, in one-third of fatal motorcycle accidents, the other driver did not see the oncoming motorcyclist. V2X technology can alert both drivers to the imminent danger and initiate corrective maneuvers in the larger vehicle. Such vehicle-to-vehicle communication is expected to reduce these types of motorcycle accidents and alleviate a portion of the danger that comes with two wheels.

V2X technology can also help pedestrians and bicyclists, who can be hard for drivers to see. Pedestrians and bikers would either don wearable technology that could interact with the V2X network or activate an app on their smartphones that would serve the same purpose. In both cases, autos with V2X alert drivers about the presence of pedestrians or bicyclists and then initiate braking or some other evasive action.

Smart Traffic

Urban driving is a case study in inefficiency. Each time a stoplight turns green, the line of cars waiting to cross the intersection must recognize it’s time to go and then accelerate, one by one. You don’t have to be too many cars deep to realize the process could be much smoother if each vehicle accelerated in unison. V2X is aiming to enable that simultaneous movement and much more, including coordinated braking at red lights, accidents or other traffic obstacles.

People lose considerable time to congestion that they cannot get back. A research group led by Dr. Meng Wang found that, in certain conditions, the average traffic jam lasted 41.7 minutes, during which traffic slowed to 7.3 mph. However, the study found that V2X technology drastically reduced the effect of traffic jams. When 10 percent of simulated vehicles had V2X technology, the average traffic jam time fell to 3.6 minutes and the average speed increased to 25.5 mph. These improvements were the result of vehicles being able to accelerate and brake in coordination. (This simple video shows how those changes can be achieved.)

According to Bielby, in addition to mass adoption of V2X technology expected by 2024, a market will likely emerge to retrofit older vehicles with at least some V2X capabilities.

Those numbers improve when a higher percentage of vehicles on the road have V2X capabilities. But the point of the study, Bielby says, is that V2X can begin solving congestion and safety problems even before mass adoption of the technology. “There’s that question of, ‘Boy, what happens when only a few people have V2X?’” Bielby says. “Considering the improvements at just 10 percent, we have our answer.”

V2X’s ability to make traffic smarter won’t stop at identifying hazards and controlling accelerating and braking. Vehicles will communicate their intentions, signaling merges, lane changes and turns sooner and enabling other vehicles to seamlessly and safely maneuver in sync, Bielby says. The days of wondering whether another driver sees your turn signal will be past. “As soon as I turn on my signal indicator, that intent is communicated to everybody down the road,” Bielby says. “Cars can then adapt their behavior to allow me to merge.”

Efficiency Gains

The auto industry has achieved impressive gains in reducing emissions from 2004 to 2014, with new vehicles increasing their efficiency by 23.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That’s the good news. The bad news is that fuel waste increased 19.2 percent during the same period, mostly due to traffic congestion, according to research by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). That same RIT study analyzed how coordinated driving enabled by V2X communication could affect emissions. The results were promising.

In the simulation, vehicles calculated optimal speeds for navigating streets and stoplights. They could also issue requests for vehicles in front of them to alter their speeds, allowing more vehicles to pass through intersections before traffic lights turned red.

The RIT study found that, at 1,200 vehicles per hour and 100 percent V2X penetration rate, emissions fell by 15 percent. Such an efficiency gain would significantly lower the carbon footprint of transportation. However, V2X technology could further reduce emissions by platooning vehicles. Basically, large vehicles would use V2X communication to travel as a caravan in tight formation, Bielby says. “This is literally having several trucks trek together a foot away from each another. As you look at the reduced drag by one truck following so closely to another truck, the fuel efficiency goes through the roof.”

The Next Step

As mentioned earlier, many autos hitting the market today already feature some building blocks, including hazard detection and computer-assisted parking, to pave the way for automated vehicles. Vehicles with advanced safety features have reduced accidents; however, those gains have been outpaced by accidents caused by inattentive drivers, many likely distracted by their smartphones. Human error remains the greatest concern in transportation.

The smart car technology already in use is limited to how a single vehicle interreacts with its environment. The next step, using V2X technology, is expected to enable vehicles to talk with each other, with traffic lights and other infrastructure, with GPS mapping programs and with bikes and pedestrians. Together, the pieces will form a mesh network constantly sharing and updating driving conditions in real time.

Vehicles with advanced safety features have reduced accidents; however, those gains have been outpaced by accidents caused by inattentive drivers, many likely distracted by their smartphones.

Micron has long been a supporter of automotive technology by offering memory solutions specifically designed for automotive applications. Because it accelerates the movement of data within and between systems, Micron’s GDDR6 technology is well-suited to the high bandwidth needs of autonomous vehicles and V2X technology. That level of fast and constant communication requires an evolution in more than just the memory but also in wireless technology. That technology could come in the form of the highly anticipated 5G cellular network, though it remains too early to tell.

So much remains to be sorted out by manufacturers, regulators and industry standard setters before V2X communication becomes widespread. But the shift is coming, and Micron is in the thick of it with our customers. The ADAS technology that will relieve traffic congestion and lead to vehicle automation already works.

Most importantly, ADAS and the V2X technology that supports it will mean far fewer traffic accidents for vehicles, motorcycles, pedestrians and cyclists. When V2X technology hits the market, you will be far less likely to feel that terrible fear and panic when something unexpected bounds into your path. And you’ll improve the chances that you and your loved ones arrive home safely at the end of the day.

That doesn’t just make V2X an exciting tech trend; it makes V2X potentially the greatest traffic safety advancement in recent history.