Ford wants all of its cars to ‘talk’ and ‘listen’ to each other by 2022

Ford C-V2X explainer

Several companies will demonstrate C-V2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything) communications technology developed by Qualcomm at CES 2019. But Ford may be the most aggressive in bringing C-V2X to market. The Detroit automaker will add it to every new car and truck sold in the United States by 2022, Don Butler, executive director for Ford connected vehicle platform and product, wrote in a blog post.

C-V2X is the latest incarnation of so-called vehicle-to-everything (V2X), a communications technology that allows cars to “talk” to each other and infrastructure. The claimed advantage of this technology is that it can warn a driver of things beyond his or her line of sight. If a car is stopped at an intersection with poor visibility, it could, for example, pick up signals from other V2X-equipped cars or sensors mounted on nearby buildings to tell the driver if it’s okay to go.

Vehicles could also communicate with stoplights, telling drivers when a light is about to change. Audi already offers this in the form of its Traffic Light Information system. The system gives a countdown when a light is about to turn green, but it only works in a handful of cities (Audi also offers a built-in toll transponder that relies on V2X tech). Aptiv has placed sensors on traffic lights in Las Vegas to guide its self-driving cars, even when they’re onboard cameras don’t have a direct line of sight to the light.

Ford could take things even further, Butler wrote. C-V2X could be integrated with driver aids, like those in Ford’s recently introduced Co-Pilot360 suite. Or it could be added to self-driving cars. Emergency vehicles could be equipped with C-V2X transmitters, allowing cars to detect their presence and move out of the way.

The difference between the C-V2X tech embraced by Ford and previous systems is that it’s based on 5G. All other V2X systems to date have used a competing setup called dedicated short range communications (DSRC). But that means Ford will have to rely on the smooth rollout of 5G. Even the rollout of DSRC-based V2X vehicles and infrastructure has been slow, and DSRC is based on a more familiar technology derived from Wi-Fi.

“A conducive regulatory environment must be in place for C-V2X to be deployed, which is why we are working just as much with industry and government organizations to create such a technology-neutral environment,” Butler wrote in his blog post. He also told Bloomberg that he hopes other automakers will adopt C-V2X alongside Ford. He added that C-V2X is a simpler solution because telecom companies are already spending billions on 5G cell towers and antennas, while DSRC would require a separate government investment.

Despite the potential hurdles, Qualcomm expects C-V2X and other related technologies to become a major part of its business. The company believes that, within five years, 75 percent of cars will have some form of connectivity. A critical mass of vehicles will be needed to realize the technology’s full benefit, since cars that aren’t equipped with C-V2X or similar systems can’t communicate with each other. The more cars on the network, the more effective it is.

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