Awkward: Cadillac launches vehicle-to-vehicle tech as Wikileaks shares docs on CIA car snooping

March 10, 2017

Vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems are a Very Big Deal that few people are talking about. This week, Cadillac tried to change that by announcing the roll-out of V2V technology on new models. Unfortunately, the timing of Cadillac's news was a little awkward.

A recap

When we think of major changes on the horizon for the auto industry, we tend to think of self-driving cars, electric vehicles, and mobility services (e.g. ride-sharing and car-sharing companies like Uber and Maven). V2V tech sometimes gets lumped into discussions of autonomous cars, but in fact, it's in a category all its own.

If you're unfamiliar with the term, V2V is essentially a system that allows cars to "talk" to one another. It can keep vehicles informed about the speed of nearby cars, alert them to potential hazards, update traffic info, and so on.

As you can imagine, that kind of technology could save drivers a lot of headaches. Most importantly, it's liable to reduce the number of roadway accidents by at least 50 percent--and perhaps as much as 80 percent. In so far as it prevents traffic jams and keeps freeways flowing, V2V is also projected to reduce the world's fuel consumption. 

In some ways, V2V is the flip side of autonomous tech. Whereas self-driving software employs cameras, radar, and other sensors to help cars maneuver along roadways, V2V does the same thing by talking to other vehicles. Think of it like this: autonomous tech lets cars operate inside their own individual bubbles; V2V, on the other hand, is most effective when it's linked to a vast network of vehicles. When paired, the two technologies offer huge benefits to drivers and pedestrians alike.

Cadillac jumps ahead

Back in December, the U.S. Department of Transportation said that it was ready to move forward with proposals to make V2V standard on new cars. Since then, little has been heard about the DOT's plans, but Cadillac isn't waiting around.

Yesterday, General Motors' luxury brand announced that it's launching its own V2V tech right now. The software will come standard on all 2017 CTS models currently in production.

According to Cadillac's Richard Brekus, the technology provides many exciting advances: "V2V essentially enables the car to sense around corners. Connecting vehicles through V2V holds tremendous potential, as this technology enables the car to acquire and analyze information outside the bounds of the driver’s field of vision. As an early mover, we look forward to seeing its benefit multiply as more V2V-equipped vehicles hit the road."

Because V2V is so new, there's been plenty of debate about how to design the technology so that there's consistency from one car to the next. Some automakers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz have grounded their V2V systems in cellular networks for transmitting data and alerts.

Cadillac, however, has gone a different route. It's placed its bet on dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology, paired with GPS. DSRC doesn't cover the range that cellular networks do, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with speed. Cadillac says that its system can communicate with vehicles up to 1,000 feet away, sending and receiving up to 1,000 messages every second.

Which is great, but essentially it means that, going forward, Cadillacs will only be able to communicate with other Cadillacs. And so, Cadillac vehicles won't be able to share important information with other nearby cars, nor can they gather data from those vehicles--at least not in the way that the system is currently designed. That's a major shortcoming. (For more on the issue, check out this nifty article.)

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