What is Car to X communication?

With a world becoming more and more digital everyday, it comes as no surprise that the motor industry can’t lack behind. With the internet of things not just being a geek’s dream, but slowly becoming a necessity in citizen’s daily lives, every product we buy is connected in one way or another. Even linking your car up to the net isn’t new anymore, some drivers have been locking their car with a dedicated smartphone app for years.

Car to X is a new technology that strives to make traveling smarter, by letting the car communicate with other vehicles or infrastructure in it’s near surroundings. To be precise, Car to X falls under the umbrella of Vehicular Communication Systems using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC). Each manufacturer likes to sell the technology under it’s own name or brand, so you can find variations like Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle-2-X (V2X), Car-to-World or Car2X, but it all boils down to the same principles.

What is Car to X?

A car that is equipped with Car to X technology uses two key components: GPS and a Wi-Fi like radio network, DSRC. This radio signal will be used to transmit information to vehicles and infrastructure in the surroundings of the car. This information includes GPS position of the vehicle, it’s speed and driving direction, as well as transmission status, steering wheel direction and predicted route. This information can be shared to other drivers with Car to X in their cars, and show a message on the dashboard of the car. If a vehicle transmits that it is unexpectedly braking, other drivers could be warned before they even noticed the danger themselves.

DSRC has a communication range of roughly 300 meters, but this could of course be caught by signalling towers and be compiled to share with other towers and thus extend communication if this is necessary.

Illustation explaining use situation of Car to X technology
A use case example by Daimler

Car to X can warn drivers of dangers like bad road conditions, stranded vehicles, approaching emergency vehicles. It can also communicate with traffic control systems like traffic lights (assuming those are equipped with the right sensors of course) in order to reduce waiting times at the traffic light and improve traffic flow. Car to X is basically a drivers’ sixth sense.

U.S. Department of Transportation explains Car to X systems

What are the benefits of Car to X?

Traffic in the future would be a lot more efficient if all cars were equipped with V2V capabilities. The right applications could warn drivers of dangerous situations in time, reduce traffic jams and make daily driving a lot more convenient, but there are more advantages of Car to X.

Technologies like this can only work perfectly if devices are all in tune. What this means is that Car to X could only reach it’s full potential if all cars (but also motorbikes, busses and infrastructural management technologies) are connected to the same network. Manufacturers who want to implement innovative technology like this into their cars are forced to cooperate in order to achieve the best possible system. This would mean that companies share valuable information in order to improve user experience, which is a good thing for all drivers.

Does Car to X have any disadvantages?

As much as we would all want it, the perfect car does not exist. To broaden this statement, the perfect product does not exist. Car to X is part of the real world and is therefore not perfect. Car to X has some known cons. First of all, the technology is still too new, even though we saw the first implementations back in 2012. Don’t worry, I am not claiming that new technologies are bad because they are new, but when it comes to V2V, it only works efficiently if (almost) all cars are equipped with the right sensors and software. So far, it is not a standard feature in cars delivered by manufacturers, and since the benefits of Car to X communication are not that well known yet, it is difficult to justify the extra price for most drivers.

Secondly, with your car sharing a lot of detailed information with anyone that has the equipment to receive it, this opens up to a whole new worlds of privacy and security issues, but more on that later.

Finally, all the cool new features that Car to X has to offer form an additional distraction to the driver. Driving is still not fully autonomous, and drivers are expected to have their focus on the road. Borders get a bit blurry when the car takes over your task of observing, yet still leaves you in control of the steering wheel. As long as the driver is in control of the car, all features should be a tool that can be used on the driver’s demand, fully hands free, and shouldn’t contradict the driving theory drivers are used to.

Is Car to X expensive?

Pricing of V2V options on your car differs from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model. For example, the newest Volkswagen Golf comes standard with Car2X technology, and some makers offer it as an optional purchase, with prices ranging form $250 up to $800, and even more if you want to smartly integrate this with a head’s up display option.

Grey Volkswagen Golf 8 front view dynamic
All new VW Golf 8 series come standard with Car to X equipped

On top of the purchase cost, Car to X has some hidden costs. More sensors means more wires, which in turn means more complicated cars, and more complicated maintenance. Not only that, if infrastructure like parking garages and traffic lights will be equipped with Car to X technology, this cost will be seen in the price of a parking spot, or have influence on the taxes that drivers have to pay. If Car to X becomes a successful tool for improving road safety and efficiency, these additional costs could be worth it.

Privacy and security concerns

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest disadvantages of our real world infrastructure becoming smarter. If every vehicle and traffic light should be able to receive the signals of every car, it wouldn’t be too difficult for someone with malicious intentions to intercept these signals. Of course the information is supposed to be encrypted and maybe it is not even linked to unique information of the car (like registration numbers, make or model, license plate), but imagine how easy it would be to match Car to X signals if you combine it with a traffic camera, which are already capable of scanning license plates.

Connecting your vehicle with the outer world makes it more vulnerable to theft or tracking. Keyless entry is one example of where making your car smarter can be a huge problem. Thieves only need to intercept the signal, or create a fake one and they have access to your car. Adding more sensors and software that talks to your car, opens more door for hackers to find vulnerabilities and abuse the system.

To summarize

Car to X is a technology that can greatly improve driving experience and safety. It can reduce waiting times at traffic lights, warn drivers of hazards, help emergency vehicles navigate faster through traffic and make operating the car easier. Vehicle to Vehicle communication can improve cooperation between different manufacturers, but it only works if a large part of the cars on the road is equipped with the right software and sensors. It is the car maker’s responsibility to design implementation of the technology that does not hinder or distract the driver, but helps humans be better drivers. Additionally privacy and security concerns should be addressed, and governments should make well founded legislation in order to regulate smart vehicles. Car to X has a lot to offer, and only time can tell if the technology will become a huge success or something we will forget about in five years.

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