Autonomous driving is accelerating swiftly up the hype curve, and for good reason. It stands to transform transportation as we know it, but more importantly have deep and irreversible impacts on society, economies, industry and commerce. Everything stands to be disrupted, from city planning to car sales, car financing, content business models, traffic flows and policing. This list is endless and our imaginations can only scratch the surface of the impact.
However, despite the potential we’re still years from this vision. The industry is making rapid progress, but much of the conversation is all too frequently focused on the vehicle itself. This of course is a logical starting point. The vehicle must develop a heightened sense of awareness; it has to be able to see and sense. Cameras, radar and lidar create an all-important picture of the immediate surroundings. This sensor fusion and compute opportunity is where investments are heavily centered, with Intel’s $15.3 billion acquisition of Mobileye a good example.
Ability to “see” isn’t enough
However, this is necessary but not sufficient for an autonomous future. The vision of Level 4 and 5 self-driving will require far more than intelligence based on what the car can see. It also needs to be able to communicate, anticipate and interpret based on what it can’t see. For example, if cars are aware of an obstacle around a blind corner, action can be taken before the risk becomes proximate to the car. Similarly, if a road is closed, that information can be included in the live map, enabling traffic to be intelligently rerouted. When it reopens it can be updated.
Systems, maps and infrastructure also need to be able to communicate with cars, and vice versa. This is one reason why we believe that autonomous driving and smart city investment are more deeply intertwined than planning and strategy appreciates today.
However, there are reassuring signs that the industry is more urgently embracing the need for vehicle and infrastructure connectivity—not that this is new. Historically, some automotive companies aligned themselves with 802.11p or DSRC (dedicated short-range communications). While this is the legacy technology supported by auto companies, CCS Insight believes a shift is emerging toward the 3GPP-based alternative in cellular V2X (C-V2X), which uses direct or network-based communications.
Shifting gears to C-V2X
Although far newer than some other technologies, C-V2X has several inherent advantages, the biggest of which is scale. It can use existing network infrastructure to deliver all flavors of V2X. Although this is feasible for DSRC/802.11p, it was largely designed for V2V and V2P communication. Enabling the technology to communicate with infrastructure (V2I) would require ground-up network investment. By contrast, C-V2X uses the cellular network and will ride the wave of LTE and 5G network investment. C-V2X also has the advantage of greater range and can operate both in and out of network coverage.
Subsequently, we believe there is a momentum move toward C-V2X. The 5GAA (5G Automobile Association) shows that the industry is coming together as companies look to standards, partnerships and shared investments to help drive scale.
Qualcomm’s recent announcement of the MDM9150 C-V2X chip with support from Audi, Continental, Ford and Groupe PSA is also a reassuring sign that progress is gaining steam. While it won’t sample until the second half of 2018, field trials are underway with the Connected Vehicle to Everything of Tomorrow (ConVex) consortium, LG and Groupe PSA. We should begin to see the technology appearing in vehicles in 2019. Realistically, this also intersects with more refined autonomous capability in the car.
A steppingstone to integration of the modem
It’s also a steppingstone to integration of C-V2X into the modem, which is another advantage over DSRC. This contributes to the improved business case for C-V2X, as the majority of new light vehicles are expected to include embedded modems for telematics in the next few years. The autonomous driving opportunity is substantial but also highly complex, with business models, security, regulation, city planning and infrastructure investment all needing to evolve in parallel with technology development. While complex, progress is accelerating, and C-V2X looks set to be a prominent part of the equation.
Geoff Blaber is vice president of research for the Americas at CCS Insight. Based in California, Blaber heads CCS Insight’s Americas business and supports the range of clients located in this territory. Blaber's research focus spans a broad spectrum of mobility and technology, including the lead role in semiconductors. He is a well-known member of the analyst community and provides regular commentary to leading news organizations such as Reuters, the Financial Times and The Economist. You can follow him on Twitter @geoffblaber.