Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The technology research arm of the Department of Transportation launched a competition to spur new ideas on how cars should talk to each other to increase safety, sustainability and congestion. The cars can also communicate with bikes or anything else actually, as long as they use Dedicated Short-Range Communications technology.
The Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge, “invites problems solvers, and innovators to develop new applications, devices, products, services and business solutions—any operational concept” based on the new kind of technology known as DSRC that lets moving vehicles communicate with each other and with intelligent transportation systems (ITS).
Peter Appel, Administrator of the DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration unveiled the contest at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington. He said, the competition is a "part of a new effort by the DOT to spark innovation by using new channels, leveraging social networks and using open format and a more accessible approach to reach a broader community of innovators.”
Dedicated Short-Range Communications technology is an open-source platform that enables connectivity between just about any type of vehicle even at highway speeds. Appel said it is “similar to Wi-Fi, but faster and more secure,” adding that it “offers an unprecedented opportunity to help create a future where millions of vehicles communicate with each other, with the capability to do everything from warning the driver to impending hazardous conditions, to taking definitive steps avoiding a crash, to plan[ning] a commute that avoids congested work zones.”
The Obama administration recently launched Challenge.gov, a platform to use prices and contests to spur innovation with and spend research money in a way proven to generate a higher impact per dollar. The DOT's Connected Vehicle Challenge, however, is no $10 million X-Prize. The six winners of the contest get travel expenses to present at the ITS Annual Conference in Orlando. So the contest is unlikely to motivate massive re-allocation of research resources to DSRC. Still, the DOT hopes the publicity of the contest and a low barrier to entry—applications need to be less than 20 pages and need not be technical—will inspire a few new thinkers to the ITS world, and that's innovation.
The U.S. DOT will also host a special technical session where the winners can showcase their ideas to ITS experts, potential investors and technical experts.
The potential uses for DSRC are first and foremost safety related. Robert Bertini, the Acting Director of the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office at the U.S. DOT told the TRB conference audience, “Secretary [of Transportation Ray] LaHood has made it clear that safety is the DOT's number one priority.“
“Our analysis” he said, “indicates that these [DSRC] technologies have the potential to address about 80 percent of the crash scenarios for unimpaired drivers.”
The contest winners could submit ideas and plans for anything from a mobile phone app to a technology links car functioning with changing road or traffic factors or anything else with a safety, environmental or economic benefit. Five of the winners will be chosen by a DOT panel of judges. One will be picked by popular vote.