Challenges for future auto safety technology

Imagine a world where cars are equipped with technology that will give drivers the ability to see pedestrians around blind curves and warn drivers of hidden obstacles. This world may not be as far off as you might think. In fact, Toyota and other auto companies are already leading the way in developing new connected car technology, supported by “dedicated short-range communication” (DSRC), which actually allows vehicles to communicate with each other to detect and avoid safety hazards.

I came to Washington, D.C. from Silicon Valley this week to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communication and Technology about our efforts to pioneer the next big thing in auto safety technology.

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At issue is a Federal Communications Commission proposal to open up the DSRC spectrum (5.9 GHz) to use by unlicensed wireless devices like Wi-Fi.  This is the same band the FCC allocated for development of DSRC technology.  While we are not conceptually opposed to sharing this spectrum with unlicensed devices, the FCC should not open up the spectrum for sharing until we determine if it can be done without causing harmful interference to DSRC.  We need to identify new sharing technology, and then verify it through rigorous testing.  

Interference that causes delayed or missed driver warnings will undermine the system’s foundation, rendering it essentially useless and leaving the future of DSRC technology in the U.S. at risk. Although Toyota is strongly committed to the technology, we cannot responsibly deploy “safety-of-life” DSRC technology unless the possibility of harmful interference from unlicensed devices is ruled out.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that there were 33,561 traffic fatalities in 2012, marking the first increase in traffic fatalities in seven years.  We believe that the next great opportunity to reduce traffic fatalities rests with the deployment of innovative new technologies such as DSRC that will prevent crashes in the first place.  However, if we’re serious about preventing collisions, we must ensure that no harmful interference impairs the safety mission for which the spectrum is allocated.

Toyota is committed to working with all stakeholders from the private sector and the government to find a spectrum sharing solution that will work.  And we look forward to continuing to collaborate with the wireless community and other stakeholders to see if we can get this done and get it done in a way that won’t undermine the next-generation of auto safety technology.

Kenney is the principal researcher at the Toyota InfoTechnology Center in Mountain View, California, where he leads the vehicular networking research team. Kenney helps represent Toyota in the Vehicle Safety Communications consortium, which performs pre-competitive research in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT).