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(Image courtesy of Ford).

Qualcomm Chip Connects Cars to Internet and Each Other

Last year, the Obama administration proposed a rule that would require cars to broadcast their location and speed, enabling safety functions like lane-change warnings and collision avoidance. Officials said that the mandate could reduce crashes and traffic.

Instead of chatting over cellular networks, the rule targets dedicated short-range communications – also known as D.S.R.C. – which lets nearby cars to know each other’s location. But because the fate of the regulation is still unclear, chipmakers are making compromises.

On Friday, Qualcomm announced its first modem chip for connected cars, which not only uses cellular connectivity for telematics and other applications that require lots of bandwidth. It also supports D.S.R.C. so that vehicles can talk with traffic lights, smartphones, and other vehicles without having to contend with dead zones.

The C-V2X – which stands for cellular vehicle-to-everything – can be installed into a vehicle’s cellular modem. But it can work without using networks operated by Verizon or other wireless carriers. It sends flurries of short D.S.R.C. messages to other cars within a 100-foot radius.

The messages ride the 5.9 GHz wireless spectrum, which the Federal Communications Commission has saved for automotive safety applications since 1999. The messages do not contain any information on the owner of the vehicle, make or model, or license plate. Vehicles broadcast these anonymous missives 10 times per second.

Doing so allows cars to quickly spread alerts about nearby accidents, veer around vehicles braking suddenly, or sense other cars speeding around blind corners. Many experts say that D.S.R.C. could spot dangers missed by other sensors like lidar, radar, and cameras that act like the eyes of autonomous cars.

To send detailed messages further, Qualcomm’s chip also uses 4G networks. That way, companies can remotely cure security glitches without resorting to costly recalls and send camera images into the cloud, where specialized software can stitch them together into digital road maps.

Audi and France’s PSA Group signed onto test the C-V2X chips, which also support global satellite navigation. Qualcomm will start sampling the chip to customers in 2018 and expects it to enter production vehicles by 2019.

The mandate, which transportation officials proposed late last year, could be enacted as soon as 2019. It would require all new cars and small trucks to be capable of D.S.R.C. communications starting in 2021. Officials said that vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) could eliminate 80% of crashes that do not involve alcohol or drugs.

The rule has faced skepticism and opposition in recent months. The cable industry has lobbied to open the 5.9 GHz spectrum for other applications, while start-ups have argued that increased regulation hurts the market for self-driving cars. Others say that the rule lacks strong security guidelines and therefore should be loosened.

Qualcomm has also taken issue with the mandate. The company said in public comments that the proposed rule made D.S.R.C. the “de facto technology winner.” It would pay less attention to 5G technology, which could support automotive applications as soon as next September when the first 5G standard – Release 15 – is scheduled to be finished.

It is still unclear if the rule will survive at all. The Trump administration has taken a harsh view of regulation and aggressively rolled back rules enacted in Obama’s term. In addition, President Trump has still not nominated anyone to lead the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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