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How vehicle-to-vehicle communication could save (and endanger) lives

Car technology is getting a lot of buzz of late, with the likes of Google and Apple both making their way into car technology, along with a host of other tech firms.
Most recently found in the press is self-driving technology, along with things like advanced infotainment systems. However there's one piece to the puzzle that hasn't gotten much love: vehicle-to-vehicle communication, or V2V.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication can take a number of forms, at its most basic being a way for cars within a certain range to let each other know of any dangers, and at its most advanced being a massive network that operates like the Internet of Things for cars. In any case, cars are connected through sensors and communication technologies similar to Wi-Fi. All this is dedicated to one cause: saving lives.

V2V communication is not the same as self-driving cars

Imagine you're driving down the road, minding your own business, when you come to a stop light. Naturally, you slow down, but as you do, the light turns green. As you begin to accelerate again, warning signals begin flashing and your seat begins vibrating. Your car is telling you to stop.
As you slam on the brakes, a car whizzes in front of you, having run a red light that might recently have been yellow. How did you know to stop? Your car told you, and if it hadn't, there might have been a serious accident. How did your car know to stop? Well, the car that ran the red light told it.
When we think of connected cars, it's common to think of something that exists in the distant future, where cars are driving themselves and as such need to know what's happening on the road. However, connected cars have applications beyond self-driving.
People, unfortunately, break the rules of the road all the time, and sometimes there's just no way to anticipate a potentially fatal incident. But the technology that can warn drivers of an impending accident could help put an end to accidents caused by reckless drivers. Not only that, but this technology will appear in our cars - self-driving or otherwise - within the next few years.

In fact, many expect V2V communication to have an even bigger impact on safety than autonomous vehicle technology. But self-driving cars are still in need of development. They get confused easily in any weather that's not normal for an October day in California. They sometimes can't deal with sudden, unexpected obstacles, like other human drivers.
At the moment, humans are still better drivers than machines, but they need help.

This is only the beginning

None of this is to say that creating a massive network of cars that can talk to each other is easy. In fact, it will likely take many years before this kind of technology is widespread, mainly because of the fact that many people prefer to buy used cars, and these people won't be buying a car with this technology until at least a few years after its release.
Not only that, but vehicle-to-vehicle communication, despite its name, isn't limited to just vehicles communicating with other vehicles. Cars could also receive data from traffic lights, they'll know when the speed limit changes and they'll know what the weather looks like. This is known as vehicle-to-infrastructure, or V2I, communication.
V2V technology could help prevent as much as 80% of accidents that involve sober drivers that are driving their cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That only leaves another 20% to be taken care of by self-driving technology.
While cars are becoming commonly connected to the Internet, it is more likely that - at least initially - cars will instead communicate through Wi-Fi-like technologies. Initial plans use a type of communication called dedicated short-range communications, or DSRC, which communicates to other cars over seldom-used frequencies, like 5.9GHz - unlike saturated signals, like 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. What this means is that cars will communicate with other cars within up to 300 meters, or 1,000 feet, which roughly translates to 10 seconds away on the highway.

V2V is vital to self-driving technology

Of course, while vehicle-to-vehicle communication might be able to inform the driver about freak scenarios, that doesn't change the fact that self-driving cars are on their way. Once self-driving cars hit, vehicle-to-vehicle communication will be even more crucial.

What's likely to happen is that we won't see a sudden shift from human driving to self-driving. Instead, cars will likely become increasingly "assisted," and will initially be able to drive themselves in scenarios like the highway instead of in complex cities.

Eventually, cars may be able to totally drive themselves, but during the transition period, communication between cars will be key. Cars will need to know when a good time is to hand the wheel back to the driver, for example. On the connected first cars, V2V technologies will include alerts to drivers, such as when a car might be stopped ahead or when one might be in the car's blind spot.
Self-driving cars will certainly be able to sense cars in their immediate surroundings, but that will be limited to a few car lengths in any given direction. If a car in front of you slams on its brakes, you have a very short amount of time to react to that situation, but if your car knows immediately that it needs to brake and can do so without the driver controlling it, then an accident could be prevented.

V2V technology isn't perfect

While V2V technology will likely drastically reduce accidents on the road, that doesn't mean that it will be perfect. Initially, V2V warnings will likely be through alarms or flashing lights rather than through any kind of assisted driving. This could actually prove to be more distracting to drivers than helpful.
Not only that, but some are worried about machines malfunctioning or misjudging a situation that a human would be able to handle easily. While it is unlikely that this would actually happen, the possibility will always be there.
Then, of course, we get to the great debate that happens alongside any discussion about new technologies: hacking. If a car were to communicate with other cars using DSRC, someone who would want to hack it would have to be in another car driving close enough to it that they can open communication with the car and squeeze their way into its system.

But once cars communicate over the mobile internet, hacking grows even easier. Someone could essentially communicate with your car from anywhere in the world, and if enough security isn't in place, they could take control of it. This is already happening to connected cars, network or not.
Of course, it's important to question why this would happen in the first place to a normal citizen driving to work, but the possibility of it happening is enough to scare anyone.

For better or worse, V2V is coming

V2V technology is likely to save thousands upon thousands of lives. And, while it's not perfect, this tech is certainly a step in the right direction for automobiles. The technology will be implemented within only a few years, and will be crucial to the rise of self-driving cars, which will save even more lives.
Of course, the possibility of hacks and other security breaches is still there, as we have seen plenty of in the past few months alone. However, at least so far, it seems as though the benefits of V2V will far outweigh the potential dangers.
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