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  • Writer's pictureSatvik Khuntia

Connectivity and ADAS

Updated: Apr 1


Autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars are the technology of tomorrow. The experts in the field, however, are bothered with a rather simple but very important question - Is there any practicality to this concept or is it just “cool”? At its core, the answer to this question would determine how quickly we will get to see self-driving cars on the road – not as straightforward as it may seem. It is much of a political and legislative problem as much as it is an engineering problem. Of the three, the engineering problem might just be the easiest to solve.


In the pursuit of making self-driving cars a technology of today, there should be complementary technologies that must act as stepping stones to the final product. Maybe some of these technologies would turn out to be more “practical” than self-driving cars themself.


One such technology is connectivity. The concept of a connected car has been around for decades now and in this article, I will try to talk about what exactly is connectivity and how is it a great value technology. It is important to draw a clear distinction between connectivity and ADAS. A distinction might sound obvious as they have different names, but the line between them has become blurrier the more these terms are used together.


ADAS or Advanced Driver Assistance System is spread out into 6 levels according to the SAE J1306 standard which is internationally accepted and built in collaboration with the ISO standards. According to it, Level 0 refers to no automation but only warnings like the lane departure alert and Level 5 refers to a fully automated vehicle capable of handling all conditions. Levels in between are easier described in bullet points below:


Level

Description

Level 1:

Lateral (Lane Centering) or Longitudinal (Emergency Braking) assist.

Level 2:

Simultaneous Lateral and Longitudinal assist.

Level 3:

Automated short manoeuvres (Automatic Lane Change).

Level 4:

Fully autonomous in certain conditions.

Connectivity on the other hand has become a buzzword today and probably different engineers would give a different definition for it. I tried asking around and got different answers myself. But one commonality that stood out amongst every answer may just perfectly define vehicle connectivity and is also coincidentally the first sentence of its Wikipedia page - A connected car is a car that can communicate bidirectionally with other systems outside of the car. While this definition captures the idea well, it can use a little bit of garnish on the top with one simple keyword – ‘wirelessly’. Traditionally connectivity was used in the context of physical connectors between two wires and is also common now. The absence of the keyword “wireless” would enable every vehicle to qualify as a ‘Connected Car’ which defeats the purpose.


For the existence of a ‘connection’ there must be a starting point and an ending point. The internet is flooded with alphabets for abbreviations for the two ends, going all the way from V2C for a vehicle to cloud to V2V for vehicle to vehicle and a bunch of letters in between with the list still growing. It won’t be surprising if we get V2G for vehicle to God at some point of time.

But what makes connectivity stand out from all the other great technologies of today and why does this specifically make so much sense?


From interpretations of Dan Brown of an idea in the book The Lost Symbol and Tuvok from The Star Tek: Voyage, all the way to study about the Uncertain vs and Predictable (U- vs P- ) Threats in the medical journals, it is clear that as humans, we DON’T like NOT knowing. As a matter of fact, we are low-key scared of what we don’t know. And what eliminates this uncertainty in vehicles? - Connected vehicle data. Connectivity is the medium of knowing what the vehicle is doing inside and out at each point in time.  


With the ability to log and save vehicle data to a cloud enables mechanics/engineers/fleet managers/drivers to work better. For a mechanic, they now have data to rely on along with their customers' word while diagnosing an issue. This means more concrete evidence of failure, more focused diagnosis, faster repair and ultimately short downtime and low cost. One of the most commonly heard phrases from an engineer might just be: “I wish I had more data”. Been there done that. The desire of more data probably even proceeds the desire for a higher salary. Connectivity allows us to get that data. To be honest, as an engineer myself, we would still say: “I wish I had more data”. A fleet manager, now knows how their 5 to 500 trucks are performing on the field in real-time and optimizes for their operation. And drivers now can know more about their vehicles, without having to open the engine bay up and drive with confidence. All lives are made easy, except for those who would handle this ginormous amount of data. 


Another major application of this data collection is predictive maintenance. This essentially means, a bunch of data scientists study the patterns in the data and can identify the likelihood of a certain failure in a vehicle before it happens. While this may not be appealing to Joe who prefers topping off the engine oil when his Toyota engine leaks instead of visiting a mechanic, this is a huge deal for commercial fleets. Truck downtime is the biggest enemy for a transportation company, and knowing of a potential bearing failure in advance will allow for fixing it the one time the truck hits the garage.


Now to the other fun part of connectivity - What if we can share information between vehicles as they drive on the road? There is a ton of research going on in this field where sharing vehicle information can enhance road safety of drivers, pedestrians, vehicles alike by up to 80%. But first, what is the data that is shared among vehicles? COVESA or Connected Vehicle Systems Alliance is a community with a bunch of companies including OEMs come together to define the specifications of the data to be shared along with SAE standards that are under development. This has not yet been adopted at a mass level but is a step in the right direction. For autonomous vehicles, connected vehicle data is also being studied to use the vision systems in multiple vehicles together and this field of study is termed Cooperative Perception. I intend to cover both these topics in a separate blog to avoid information overload for now.


All in all, connectivity is a very strong tool that will enable autonomous vehicles and support ADAS. While it is not as often talked about as some other technologies, it holds a lot more importance considering how immediately we require it. Connectivity is one such technology that is a stepping stone to allowing Level 5 autonomy in vehicles but even without this application, it can significantly improve transportation.



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