Talking Vehicles…. Safe or Dangerous?

I’m here at the Fleet Technology Expo learning (and talking, of course) about all aspects of tech on wheels. The future of transportation technology is quite fascinating and I could probably write pages on what I’ve heard thus far but after listening to Tim Johnson of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration I’m going to focus on talking vehicles. Yep, talking vehicles!

I’m not talking a Siri /KITT hybrid that talks to the driver I’m talking cars and trucks that share information with each other. Otherwise known as V2V (vehicle to vehicle) communication. This technology can play an absolutely enormous role in improving highway safety. Think about it…the car in front tells the car behind “slam on your brakes NOW because I just did!” or the truck heading east passes a westbound truck and says “hey, the roads are slick back there, my ESC – electronic stability control - activated so be aware”. 

All really very cool and absolutely feasible but here’s my concern (and one in which I chose the opportunity to outright ask of Mr. Johnson) SPECTRUM. Yep, that FCC controlled air space that is worth more than gold! Back in the late 90’s V2V technology was given a 5.9GHz Safety Spectrum. A short-range communication spectrum meant solely for intelligent transportation. The cable /cell phone/Wi-Fi guys got their own spectrum. The 5.9GHz spectrum was ours. But now the cable guys want it and frightening of frightening the FCC is actually considering giving them some. Or even worse, trying to figure out how the space can be “shared”!!

Now I’m no computer geek (far from it actually) but I do know enough to know that if ImaHackerThatWantsToWreakSomeHavoc can sip coffee on the patio of the local coffee shop using free Wi-Fi (which used to only work inside the shop but now that the FCC has opened up the 5.9GHz short range spectrum the coffee shop can happily offer Wi-Fi to customers way out on the patio) I can probably without too much difficulty tap into the communication system of a car/truck passing by. They are sharing the same spectrum after all…. ever suddenly heard your neighbor talking from their baby monitor to yours??? It happens.  But our hacking havoc wreaker isn’t cooing to a newborn, he’s telling the car that just drove by to suddenly slam on its brakes or accelerate through the intersection. And if you really want to get scary, he’s tapping into the “connected” communication system of that truck and routing it to the nearest playground at top speeds….

Mr. Johnson answered my question by saying “yes, it was a very good question and yes they realize it’s a very important issue and that NHTSA does its best to convey this to the FCC.” But that was it. In the end I wonder who will win out?? The big pocketed cable/Wi-Fi/phone guys that are willing to pay for it now or the suppliers of the connected vehicle movement (automotive AND trucking) that are inches away from truly making the connected vehicle a reality? Technologically the connected vehicle is already feasible, it’s the public acceptance that’s the problem (sure, I might be willing to let my car parallel park for me but I’m not so sure I’m ready for it to do all the driving). 

If the FCC lets the public have access to the 5.9GHz Safety Spectrum that is supposed to be JUST for intelligent transportation systems then I can pretty much guarantee you the idea of a truly connected vehicle movement will be dead in the water. Just as I’m not a computer geek I’m also not a politician, but if I were a supplier of one of the plethora of connected technologies being introduced, I would put my gloves on and start fighting or in the very least become educated on this issue and not get blindsided by the FCC.

Food for thought! Now back to the exhibit hall!