Verizon Builds Driverless Cars Their Own City

Since testing driverless cars out on the open road is probably a bit dangerous in the early stages, Verizon, the University of Michigan and 14 other partners have built a controlled but fully functioning mini-city where they develop and test driverless cars.

Called M-City, the project includes a 32-acre urbanized test ground situated in Michigan. It doesn't just have roads either; there are robotic human dummies, streets, intersections, traffic signs, buildings and sidewalks to make it feel like home.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) is one of 15 companies working with the University of Michigan to test driverless cars, and its focus is on how vehicles will communicate with others in the city -- specifically other vehicles (vehicle-to-vehicle or V2V), pedestrians (V2P), bicycles (V2B) and the infrastructure it's running on (V21). (See If These Cars Could Talk.)

Amit Jain, director of corporate strategy of IoT verticals at Verizon, says that when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) first allocated spectrum in the 5.9GHz band to automobiles, the intention was for it to be used for V2V -- cars exchanging messages to warn of impending collisions. (See Spectrum Spats: Chatty Cars, Busy Broadcast Airwaves.)

V2V has yet to take off, however, primarily because of the issue of who will pay to implement the technology and the long lifespan of cars, Jain says. In the meantime, Verizon is looking for other ways to achieve the same objective of safety and accident reduction.

"We're eager to see if smartphones with a lifespan of two years or less will be one way to propagate the technology," Jain says. "That's why we're joining the effort."

Similar to V2V, vehicle to pedestrian or bike communication relies on DSRC, or dedicated short range wireless communications channels in the upper 5.9Ghz spectrum, to warn a driver if a bike or person is approaching. Future iterations could even automatically apply the brakes when someone is too close. DSRC works in a less than 1 kilometer radius, Jain says, and ultimately has to be device and carrier agnostic to be effective. (See Telefónica: Safety Is Top Connected Car 'App'.)

For more on connected cars in the Internet of Things, visit the dedicated automotive content section here on Light Reading.

Verizon also has made big investments in connected cars that it wants to see take off, including its 2012 acquisition of Hughes Telematics. Jain says much of the technology behind M-City springs from Hughes. It also has embedded technologies with automakers Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen and others, aftermarket services for insurance providers, its ZipCar-like service Verizon Auto Share and fleet management technology. (See Verizon Creates a Mobile ZipCar and Verizon Spends $612M for a Future in Cars.)

Verizon Vehicle, its aftermarket solution for embedding connectivity in cars that are already on the market, is currently in beta testing with plans to launch commercially later this year. (See Verizon Vehicle Races to Catch Up to OnStar.)

Verizon's CEO Lowell McAdam has made bold predictions that driverless cars could hit the streets in the next three to five years, which may be too ambitious given the number of moving parts involved, but Jain sees pilots like M-City helping to move the market forward. (See Verizon CEO: Self-Driving Cars Could Hit Road Soon.)

He says that collaboration with state governments will be a key factor -- fixing potholes and investing in improving streets, traffic lights and tolls is a big part of it. Getting support from automakers and -- of course -- cracking the business case issue, will be paramount as well. (See Carriers Test-Drive Connected Car Biz Models.)

"We're very excited to be the only carrier on the leadership circle," Jain says of M-City. "I've been in this field for a long time; when you get a lot of big behemoths, especially automakers that are fierce competitors, it's hard to coalesce people around a cause. What I'm seeing is unbelievable with all the disparate parties coming together to form standards and facilitate innovation. It's going to be unprecedented."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

MikeP688 7/29/2015 | 5:35:40 AM
A Beautiful Development.... ...but as folks are aware, I have been on the record with reservations on this.    What I saw from US_CERT (which did make the news) is scary to say the least:


National Cyber Awareness System:
07/27/2015 05:06 PM EDT

Original release date: July 27, 2015

A vulnerability affecting the Uconnect software from FCA has been reported. Exploitation of this vulnerability may allow an unauthorized user to take remote control of an affected vehicle, but the attack requires access to Sprint's cellular network, which connects FCA vehicles to the Internet. Sprint has blocked the port used for attacks. FCA and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) have also initiated a safety recall for all potentially affected Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram models. See the NHTSA recall announcement for a complete list.

US-CERT recommends that users review ICS Alert 15-203-01 and Vulnerability Note VU#819439 for more information. Uconnect users are encouraged to review the NHTSA recall announcement and apply the software update.
nasimson 7/27/2015 | 12:43:27 AM
Re: V2X > Of course, interoperability will be important there. If the driver and my bro on
> his bike only got warned if both were on Verizon, there'd be some serious issues...


Interoperatibilty is a MUST and all the apps I've seen so far are not limited to the network. So that should not be a concern to begin with. 

I think operators are now mature enough to understand that its ecosystem and not walled garden that will flourish in IoT.
Sarah Thomas 7/23/2015 | 5:46:51 PM
car competition Verizon's stiffest competition in connected cars is from AT&T, which has a partnership with GM and just announced over 1 million connected car connections in the third quarter. Verizon touted its overall M2M growth, but didn't break out cars specifically. 
Sarah Thomas 7/23/2015 | 5:44:43 PM
Re: V2X Ha, nice! It is good that Verizon is providing mobile messages as alerts of impending doom, because I bet most accidents are caused by people on their cell phones anyway (whether pedestrians or drivers).
Mitch Wagner 7/23/2015 | 3:56:02 PM
Re: V2X And now an exclusive photo from the streets of Verizon's city of driverless cars:


"... there are robotic human dummies.... "

In other words, it's just like driving around here. 
Sarah Thomas 7/23/2015 | 3:26:23 PM
V2X This reminds me of the Safety City that we had in elementary school to learn how to be safe when out and about -- look both ways, avoid stranger danger, etc. But, this city is a lot scarier when you're relying on the cars to drive themselves.

If V2X works as advertised, it could be a really important tool to cut down on accidents. Just last week my brother got hit by someone opening a car door without looking when he was biking. If the driver would've gotten a warning, it might not have happened.

Of course, interoperability will be important there. If the driver and my bro on his bike only got warned if both were on Verizon, there'd be some serious issues...
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