Driving Dystopia: Companies Are Getting Serious About Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Connectivity

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

driving dystopia companies are getting serious about vehicle to infrastructure

Before connected vehicles had become ubiquitous, numerous companies suggested that they would be networked into roadway infrastructure to improve safety and decrease traffic congestion. The concept even became a keystone issue for lobbyists trying to convince lawmakers to create regulations favorable to autonomous cars.

But it never manifested due to just how ambitious the overarching concept happened to be. The relevant technologies were still in their infancy and would require years of collaboration between multiple industries and various government agencies before anything got off the ground. However, things are reportedly starting to change. Pilot programs are being implemented on public streets, companies are working on the necessary hardware, and the U.S. government is asking for more with cash in hand.

While the concept of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) connectivity has been around since at least the 1950s, any tangible progress has been relatively recent. It wasn’t until the automotive sector started making some headway with autonomous vehicles and the world saw wireless communications becoming commonplace that V2I had any hope of becoming something real.

Even as the stage was being set, there were disagreements on how best to implement the required systems. Someone would need to build the roadside sensors that capture vehicle data, someone would need to operate hubs that determine how to manage traffic, and someone would need to build the kind of automobiles that could respond to that without driver involvement. That’s a lot to contend and we haven’t even gotten into the finer details of how any of the above will operate.

According to Automotive News, those questions are starting to be answered as the government becomes increasingly interested and companies furnish the required equipment. As an example, the outlet named the Israeli startup NoTraffic — which retrofits existing intersections to create “smart traffic lights.”

The business claims it can finish working on an intersection in a couple of hours. NoTraffic starts by installing a sensor array (presumably including a camera) that classifies road users into groups (e.g. vehicle, pedestrian, cyclist) and monitors their speed and location. Then, control units are installed into existing traffic-light cabinets that give municipalities access to the system.

The sensor transmits data to the cabinet, to the cloud, and to individual connected vehicles, which can receive warnings if, for example, another vehicle is about to run a red light. Theoretically, the system can also be scaled up to provide other services and help lights adapt to changing traffic conditions. Automotive News said the systems are already being utilized in Palo Alto, CA, and Tucson, AZ, with the company saying it’s on pace to work with “more than 100 departments of transportation and traffic agencies” by the end of 2023.

With the United States’ requested proposals for more solutions, companies are now bending over backward to help out. The federal government has been embracing campaigns to rethink public roadways wherever they manage to gain momentum. Some of the ideas — like using physical barriers to keep cyclists, pedestrians, and automobiles separated — seem like obvious wins. But there’s also a lot of energy being put into efforts to lower speed limits ( or speed-limited automobiles), increase camera-based automated enforcement, leverage V2I, and discourage driving by adding tolls, restricting automobiles from certain roads, and prioritizing public transit whenever possible. This was inevitable, due to the fact that many of the concepts piggyback on things like New York City’s Vision Zero.

We can argue forever about whether or not Vision Zero actually made for safer roads, as there’s a surplus of conflicting evidence. But it’s effectively the benchmark for what the federal government is hoping to apply more broadly, with V2I networking being the icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, companies seem happy to comply with the scheme because there’s now serious money to be made. The Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law established the new Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) discretionary program, with $5 billion in appropriated funds over the next 5 years. Businesses are eager to get access to that grant money and net some juicy government contracts once their solutions for safer streets are selected.

From Automotive News:

For the first time, there is serious momentum for a national deployment of vehicle-to-infrastructure technology as government grants and waivers pick up speed. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2022 awarded a nearly $1.9 million grant to Utah's DOT, which is partnering with Ford, General Motors and Nissan to develop V2I test procedures and test tools to deploy nationally.
There are 59 smart transportation projects in 33 states receiving a total of $94 million in funding from the DOT in fiscal 2022.
In April, the FCC granted waivers to Audi of America, Ford Motor Co., Jaguar Land Rover and Panasonic Corp. of North America to use a band of spectrum designated for vehicle-to-everything technology while they write the final regulations.
The waivers are "massively significant," said Lee Colman, global head of consulting at SBD Automotive. "You've got several threads there that are coming together that are kind of breaking the slow evolution of this corner of automotive."
The quicker pace of development can be traced back to rulemaking in 2020 by the FCC.

However, adding all of this network-focused infrastructure does present some drawbacks. The United Kingdom relied heavily on speed cameras for decades. But their implementation was opposed by drivers. The Association of British Drivers was formed immediately after the first speed cameras were introduced and ended up being followed by the Motorists Against Detection. While the former group focused on petitioning the government to rethink roadway surveillance, the latter claimed responsibility for the destruction of at least 700 cameras by 2003.

Other European countries followed suit. Governments continued adding camera locations and citizens took them down by any means at their disposal. France had even managed to eliminate a majority of the units that had been fielded through 2019.

At the time, there was no shortage of government-backed studies claiming that automated speed enforcement saved lives. But they also ended up being a goldmine, as the resulting ticketing revenue outpaced what would have been possible beforehand. A singular police vehicle is lucky to catch eight speeders in a given day. But the very first speed camera introduced on Britain's M40 reportedly nailed over 400 people in under an hour.

There’s certainly a case to be made regarding improved roadway safety, as there is indeed supportive data that accident rates tend to decline when enforcement measures are up. But public pushback in the U.K. was sufficient to encourage the government to scale back camera utilization for a time, with some citizens wondering what they would ultimately lead to.

We now know. The United Kingdom likely has the highest number of speed cameras (per capita) in the entire world and some municipalities are introducing noise-detecting cameras aimed at penalizing people with loud exhaust systems. There are similar programs being tested or promoted in states like New York and California. But it’s all part of a larger scheme seeking to place traffic signals, automated enforcement, and connected vehicles together under one giant umbrella.

Generalized surveillance camera utilization has also exploded. While China has the most CCTVs overall, Brits are assumed to have more digital eyes on them per person. However, China has gone the extra mile by implementing facial recognition software and having its traffic enforcement centers work in tandem with everything else a police department does. Traffic cameras aren’t just monitoring traffic anymore and drivers caught disregarding the rules are now subject to government authorities lowering their social credit score. The government is even working with businesses to develop ways of controlling passenger vehicles remotely. This is vehicle-to-infrastructure at its absolute most predatory.

Western roadways haven’t yet gotten to this stage. But we’ve seen metropolitan hubs dabbling with some of the same concepts (especially facial recognition) and the government push to advance vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity may end up yielding the same outcomes.

London now has Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) and cameras totally dedicated to enforcing that people are driving the right kind of vehicles or at least paying the applicable fines. Meanwhile, urban planners have introduced 15-minute cities designed to make areas more livable by ensuring that all essential services are within walking distance. While it hardly sounds like a bad idea, it’s creating serious problems for local residents. Drivers have started to bemoan certain streets being barred off to automobiles and fines being introduced for taking certain routes — the whole scheme being dependent upon a vast array of roadside enforcement cameras.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some benefits to be enjoyed from V2I and similar technologies. Adaptive traffic lights seem to work aplomb and speed monitoring displays can certainly discourage motorists from driving too fast in a residential area without issuing any formal penalties. Data amassed from traffic monitoring systems would assuredly help with future roadway construction planning, too.

While the automotive and tech industries clearly misrepresented their progress on vehicular automation, many assumed there would have to be supportive infrastructure to improve functionality. Cars would be networked together while also communicating with data centers designed to manage streetlights in a manner that created a safer, smoother driving experience for all.

That has not happened yet and may indeed be the only way to ensure autonomous vehicles work properly, as they help eliminate variables AVs seem to have trouble with. But critics are bound to point out that one can never truly plan for every contingency and note that it will be decades before every automobile on the road is equipped with the relevant technologies to make such a thing possible. Ditto for those connected roadways.

If you happen to be someone who drives professionally, the perks of total automation ultimately mean you cannot feed your family. There are also lingering questions about who would be liable when systems do fail and result in injury or death. But these proposed changes to infrastructure could still help create safer roadways if they work as advertised. We just don’t know whether that’ll be the case and the entities making promises (automakers, tech companies, and the government) aren’t exactly known for keeping their promises.

Realistically, it’s hard to imagine any of the above working exactly as planned. Centralized control of traffic would effectively require every stretch of road to be monitored, with connected automobiles filling in the gaps. It’s a gargantuan undertaking for even the most functional governments and would require numerous industries to standardize their equipment for a singular purpose. Meanwhile, public tolerance for being monitored seems to be running out and people are becoming increasingly skeptical of “smart” devices wrangling control toward the manufacturer. We’re also seeing people disabling autonomous test vehicles in places like San Francisco.

The more probable outcome is seeing these systems used within urban centers and along major highways. It’s already happening. But there will need to be hard evidence that they result in a decline in overall roadway fatalities and one has to wonder how long they’ll exist when the associated financial incentives begin to dry up. Will local municipalities bother to continue funding systems that ultimately reduce revenue produced by traffic fines? Will companies bother developing equipment once there are no more government grants? And will the citizenry be broadly accepting of these programs or take the European approach of burning invasive traffic enforcement tools to the ground?

[Image: NHTSA]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by  subscribing to our newsletter.

Join the conversation
2 of 18 comments
  • Cprescott Cprescott on Aug 10, 2023

    I don't want or desire my car talking with others. All of these electronic aids are making drivers reckless, foolish, impatient, and downright non-caring. When drivers actually had to pay attention to the road, things were much better. There are several brands of drivers who consistently are a greater threat to those on the road than others. I tend to have OCD tendencies and I notice patterns easily - and these brands are outrageous in their out of the norm inconsideration qualities. The Duh sisters - Hon and Toyo. Add to that honorable mention Mazda and Subaru drivers which have really gone loopy the last year.

  • Jeff Jeff on Aug 10, 2023

    I believe this will be inevitable regardless of how we individually feel about it. It is more likely Insurance companies will be the impetus to adopt systems like this because it will lower the number of accidents which translates to less insurance claims. I do see a benefit where traffic lights can be adjusted for roads at peak traffic but I also fear more control and monitoring by governments whether they be local, state, county, or federal. Good article Matt and it gives us something to think about as AI is advancing and effecting more parts of our lives.

  • Dusterdude @SCE to AUX , agree CEO pay would equate to a nominal amount if split amongst all UAW members . My point was optics are bad , both total compensation and % increases . IE for example if Mary Barra was paid $10 million including merit bonuses , is that really underpaid ?
  • ToolGuy "At risk of oversimplification, a heat pump takes ambient air, compresses it, and then uses the condenser’s heat to warm up the air it just grabbed from outside."• This description seems fairly dramatically wrong to me.
  • SCE to AUX The UAW may win the battle, but it will lose the war.The mfrs will never agree to job protections, and production outsourcing will match any pay increases won by the union.With most US market cars not produced by Detroit, how many people really care about this strike?
  • El scotto My iPhone gets too hot while using the wireless charging in my BMW. One more line on why someone is a dumbazz list?
  • Buickman yeah, get Ron Fellows each time I get a Vette. screw Caddy.