‘Informational safety’ in the landscape of vehicle safety

April 30, 2024

By Gopi C. Surnilla
Director, Business Development
Valtech Detroit

The technology landscape of vehicle safety has been evolving over many years. The initial safety solutions have been around the protection of the occupants in an accident. These solutions were designed for the ultimate condition that the accident does happen. Technologies such as seatbelts, airbags, vehicle crashworthiness, etc., are in this group and have been the most effective solutions, and continue to be so.

The advent of vehicle sensing technologies, such as the camera and radar systems, introduced a whole new group of technologies that fall into the category of “crash avoidance,” referred to as “active safety.” These include collision warning, avoidance, and mitigation systems. This domain of safety has propelled crash avoidance safety significantly either through active safety, like the avoidance and mitigation (reduce the impact of collision) features such as automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assist (LKA), and/or alerting features that provide warnings to drivers about an impending collision, such as forward collision warning (FCW). These solutions are great, but they have limitations in terms of the ability to address high-speed crashes, non-line-of-sight situations, bicyclist and pedestrian accidents, etc. Additionally, the automated driving systems are introducing new challenges in vehicle safety that need to be addressed. 

In trying to address the non-line-of-sight challenges in vehicle safety, V2X technology has been introduced into the industry. Several use cases have demonstrated the benefits of V2X technology for warning drivers about impending collision situations that are not visible to the driver, categorized as V2X active safety. The goal of the technology is to not only provide warnings, but have the vehicle take necessary actions like AEB, in both automated and human-driven modes. For this technological solution to bear fruit, all vehicles, VRUs and any other road actors need to have V2X technology available, such as C-V2X.

C-V2X technology has been chosen as the technology of choice in the U.S. It meets the necessary requirements of low latency, security, etc., for V2X active safety applications. The technology and the concept have great merits to be able to solve the problem of non-line-of-sight collisions. However, the merits of the technology are being hampered by the lack of penetration and/or adoption of C-V2X technology. Although the government has been making significant efforts towards penetration of this technology, it is not yet yielding the necessary adoption that is expected or needed for V2X to make a meaningful impact in the realm of safety. In the initial stages of technology adoption when there are very few vehicles equipped with C-V2X technology, the probability of two connected road users or vehicles in a collision path is very low. This leads to a lack of tangible benefit to vehicle owners and lower levels of trust and motivation in the adoption of the technology. Additionally, there is an inherent customer expectation that active safety technologies need to be available all the time, similar to camera/radar-based technologies, such as FCW. This makes it challenging for vehicle OEMs to make a compelling case for customer adoption.

Another layer of safety that falls into the non-line-of-sight domain, and is still included in the V2X technology domain, is “informational safety.” This is about situational awareness for vehicle drivers. It may be providing information to drivers in the form of alerts or timely information. Alerts may raise the awareness for the driver about a potentially risky scenario developing so that the driver can respond in a non-emergency manner. At the other end of informational safety is awareness information, so that the driver may determine the best course of action with the information provided. Examples of awareness alerts are those provided through Waze about accidents on the road, debris on the road, etc.  It is differentiated from the warnings discussed before in the sense that the warnings are meant for the driver to take immediate emergency action such as braking, swerving, etc. Since informational safety is not related to an emergency, the V2X information exchange is latency tolerant and hence NOT latency critical. Additionally, the requirements around the security of V2X information are also not as stringent or critical as is the case with active safety and C-V2X.

Drivers are used to being provided with information such as message boards about road conditions, traffic conditions, work zones, etc. They are also used to the notion that the information may or may not be available all the time and that they use the information when and where available. This inherently sets the expectations of drivers in terms of the information provided through V2X. Informational safety may be available when possible and not always, unlike in V2X warnings where road users would expect warnings to be provided in all collision situations. Thus, it makes it easier to enable user adoption of informational safety technologies. 

To provide informational safety, several communication technologies that are already in widespread use could be leveraged; communication technologies such as cellular communication, Bluetooth low energy (BLE), ultra wideband (UWB), satellite, etc., which may or may not meet the requirements of active safety but are quite well suited for use with informational safety. Additionally, these technologies are widely deployed or available across all vehicles, infrastructure, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc., either as part of the in-vehicle technologies, wearables, smartphones, or other devices. The ubiquity of the deployment of these technologies makes it easy for adoption and assists in scaling the provision of “Information Safety” features and functions across the transportation system. Although these technologies are widely available, their use in the provision of informational safety functionality has not been expedited, as necessary. I think it is necessary to make a concerted effort towards promoting and messaging the use of these technologies as the low-hanging fruit towards providing informational safety through a connected ecosystem. In the spectrum of safety, informational safety may be the last level of an active safety solution, but it should not necessarily be the last one to be implemented. Let us redouble our efforts to focus on using highly deployed communication technologies to deliver valuable safety information to road users. 

Furthermore, there is a need for differentiation and clarification of V2X terminology for active safety and informational safety. Initially, the industry was referring to V2X primarily and solely around low-latency and high-security communication technologies such as C-V2X. However, the current definition and scope of V2X has expanded to include other communication technologies and use cases that are outside the bounds of C-V2X technology. This change of interpretation and definition of V2X is leading to confusion in communication. It might be worthwhile and time to differentiate the two classes of V2X technologies and applications. Leave the industry-wide understanding of C-V2X as is, to be attributed to low-latency and high-security applications and technologies, and introduce new terminology for informational safety technologies and solutions. A name such as “V2Xi” may be a term that could be adopted to clarify the V2X use for “informational safety.” Both of these solutions fall under the umbrella of V2X safety.


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