V2X to Change the World for Truck Transport, More

Q&A with Herbert Blaser, u-blox

Smart city traffic management, tracking agricultural, mining, and other equipment, improved safety, and fuel savings are among the applications set to benefit.

Editor’s Note: Even shark fins that are not in soup can find themselves heating up or cooling down. Take shark fin antennas housing V2X communications equipment atop a truck, for example. The need to deal with temperature extremes is the reason the UBX-P3 DSRC/802.11p chip (u-blox) is AEC-Q100 grade 2 (-40 °C to +105 °C). And the reason some trucks sport the fins, including those in trials of the Peloton system , is to “realize fuel savings of 10 percent or more,” as Herbert Blaser, u-blox senior director, product center short range radio, explained. Speaking with EECatalog not long before the UBX-P3 SoC chip was announced, Blaser described, in addition to truck platooning, other applications for Direct Short Range Radio Communication (DSRC), which is based on the IEEE 802.11p WiFi standard. Edited excerpts of our interview follow.

EECatalog:  What sets Vehicle to Everything (V2X) applications based on DSRC/802.11p apart?

Herbert Blaser, u-blox

Herbert Blaser, u-blox: With DSRC we have solved, for example, the problem of connectivity around corners, and the technology makes line of sight up to one kilometer possible.

The technology sets a framework within which a vehicle can send any type of information in a standardized format. The basic information that is sent is the position, the velocity and the direction, or heading, of the vehicle. The receiving vehicle can receive the information and then can do something with it. It can alert the driver, it can ignore it, or even take immediate action if we’re talking about autonomous driving, for example.

EECatalog:  What comprises some of the “X,” the “everything” part of V2X?  What else would be talking to or listening to vehicles when this technology is implemented?

Blaser, u-blox:  While active traffic safety will drive volume, there are other applications that make use of the technology, which are not so high volume but still very interesting. For instance, if cities place roadside units at intersections and traffic lights, they have the means to communicate with vehicles and proactively manage the traffic or alert drivers. The same infrastructure can also be used to manage bus systems.

If you think, “what can you do with this?” then you get into applications like mining or agriculture, where you have expensive equipment driving around, and where it thus makes sense to exchange information, whether about the equipment’s position or something else. And from that point you can use your imagination and creativity to think about other applications for the technology.

Image courtesy Peloton

EECatalog:  Platooning was one of the applications mentioned in the release announcing the u-blox UBX-P3 chip for V2X.

Blaser, u-blox:  Yes, platooning is a very interesting application where there is money to be saved. In the U.S.,  Peloton is very advanced with its platooning solutions today. The DSRC/802.11p V2X communication solution Peloton uses is enabling trucks to safely stay to within just 0.5 seconds of distance between trucks. For each truck that joins a platoon, whether it is heading or trailing, all trucks in the platoon save fuel as aerodynamic drag shrinks. Saving 10 percent or even more of fuel is significant when you drive long distances. Several states have approved the platooning concept in preparation for commercial deployment. Trials are also taking place in Europe along with standardization and legislative efforts.

And with regard to increasing autonomy, with initial deployments a driver will steer, with acceleration and braking handled by machines. The driver also takes over for entering or exiting the highway. But, going forwards, we will see steps in increasing autonomy, and that means a long haul truck driver, for example, can do other things, such as prepare for the next trip.

EECatalog:  How are DSRC/802.11p V2X and cellular V2X alike and/or different?

Blaser, u-blox:  You could say “alike” in that, while incompatible with DSRC/802.11p, cellular V2X would work in the same spectrum. So, in the end, it will be the FCC who will decide which technology can be used in the 80 MHz allocated. However, for deployment within this decade it would have to be DSRC/802.11p because there is nothing else. Cellular V2X, which would be based on LTE or 5G, is not available.

EECatalog:  How close is DSRC/802.11p V2X to deployment?

With regard to field trials and introduction into the market, in the United States we have several states with active trials ongoing. New York City has more than 10,000 vehicles equipped with 11p technology. The ongoing trials are to determine “how does the interaction work?”; “how is the user being alerted?” and similar questions. Trials are taking place in Europe as well. In Germany DSRC/802.11p is deployed on the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) highway.

In Japan more than 100 thousand cars to date have DSRC/802.11p V2X communication installed. Australia, Korea, and Indonesia are also trying this technology. In addition to ongoing trials, there is activity on the legislative front. The Department of Transportation is working on a mandate that would require cars to equip DSRC/802.11p. There is a proposal out, we are getting feedback, and now we are waiting for the next steps to happen. In Europe and Korea ongoing discussions regarding similar legislation are taking place.

General Motors has a Cadillac model equipped with 11p today; Toyota  is equipping cars in Japan now and has announced it will equip cars in the U.S. going forward. In Europe Volkswagen has announced that DSRC will be part of its cars from 2019 onwards.

EECatalog:  Might cellular V2X succeed DSRC/802.11p?

Blaser, u-blox: I believe that once millions of cars are out there with DSRC/802.11p V2X technology, 5G might have an “in addition to” role, but certainly would not replace 11p in the next decades. 11p is technology that thousands of engineers are working with today. It is WiFI, which is an easier technology to understand than cellular—especially because cellular technology today works with base stations, and it doesn’t work car to car.

EECatalog:  One feature of the UBX-P3 DSRC/802.11p SoC I’d like you to describe is concurrent dual channel operation.

Blaser, u-blox: You can use 11p in different ways, one of which is concurrent dual channel operation. Dual channel means that we have two full receive and transmit chains in the chip that can transmit at the same time, making possible simultaneous communication on the standard’s safety and service channels. For example, it is used in the roadside units that smart cities use for traffic management, where you can have two antennas positioned in opposite directions for optimizing performance.

Or it can be used for platooning where you have to listen for the safety messages, and you need stable communication between the trucks.

In larger vehicles like trucks you also have another problem, the shadow effect of an antenna, so when you have an antenna in a side mirror, for example, you have a vehicle that attenuates the signal. To cope with this, the designers use two antennas, typically on opposite sides of the vehicle, and they transmit and receive the same information at the same time on two antennas—this is called diversity. And with this you increase the robustness and the sensitivity, which is equal to range. That sets us apart from our competition.

EECatalog: Anything to add before we wrap up?

One thing that makes u-blox stand out is that we offer both the chip and the module, so that we can offer customers a choice between the chip with the same functionality and the module. Companies typically start off wanting to save money and saying, yes, we can do a chip in house, but then realize that delays cost money; there is an opportunity cost. By using modules, customers can shorten the design cycle and they can simplify certification.

The module approach is one we have used for a number of years successfully in the GPS domain for positioning, Customers can move from one implementation to the other and get the same support and same technology from us. Using the module to lay out in the PCB is far less complex and expensive. You can quickly get something working.

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