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C-ITS is a smart, connected technology that enables wireless communication between vehicles, infrastructure and other road users. It has the potential to significantly increase the safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of road transportation.

The potential of Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) — or V2X (Vehicle-to-everything) technology — to enable safer, smarter transportation in Canada is immense. Experts in our recent webinar weigh in on the promise and pitfalls

Reports show that human error is at blame for the majority of automobile accidents. But if cities could adopt new technologies like Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS), this problem may be resolved.

C-ITS is a smart, connected network that enables wireless communication between vehicles, infrastructure such as cameras and traffic lights and other road users. It has the potential to significantly increase the safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of road transportation.

In a webinar hosted by Electric Autonomy Canada, panellists from AECOM, iSmartWays Technology Inc., Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN), Autonomy Institute and Autocrypt examined C-ITS technology, its benefits and the question of how to ensure data from this technology remains secure, while being realistic about the limitations of connectivity.

You can watch the full discussion with Electric Autonomy in the webinar sponsored by Autocrypt. We’ve summarized the highlights below. 

Defining  vehicular communication systems

Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems is an industry term used to refer to “machine-to-machine communication.” Essentially, you have a system that can communicate from the vehicle level, infrastructure level and also the driver level, explains Charles Cheng, business development manager at iSmartWays Technology Inc., an Alberta-based  IoT transportation solutions provider.

It is similar to the more widely used terms vehicle-to-everything, or V2X, which means vehicles are able to communicate with other vehicles and infrastructure, such as cameras, LiDAR and road devices.

“We noticed that the language, in China particularly, has shifted… to combine what they say ‘cooperative autonomy’ and that’s combining V2X — including both infrastructure and the vehicle — with automated driving. Only through those combinations can you actually achieve level four or level five self-driving cars, as well as smart cities,” says Cheng.

Cheng says he prefers the use of the term C-ITS in Canada because it better encompassed the communication between machines. As this technology grows, the industry sees an enormous opportunity to improve driver awareness of potential dangers and reduce incidents caused by human error.

“The advantage of having connectivity is that we can see beyond visual line of sight. This gives us the ability to see beyond corners, to see beyond vehicles in front of us and also to be able to do direct communications with other vehicles,” says Suzanne Murtha, vice-president of connected and automated technologies at AECOM, a U.S.-based infrastructure consulting firm.

“Ultimately, when there’s more automation and connectivity, the communication enables the intent so that a vehicle can explain to another vehicle and they can talk between themselves and figure out which vehicle is going to make what move.”

Securing the data between the systems

As technologies for vehicles and wireless communication continue to develop, it will become crucial to ensure that the data being exchanged remains safe and secure from malicious actors.

Sean HJ Cho, president of Autocrypt North America, explains that a core device that is responsible for the communication between vehicles and road infrastructure is required to have cybersecurity integrated to prevent potential vulnerabilities.

“When a device is enrolled into the C-ITS ecosystem, the backend server issues unique certificates that can be used only by the device to authenticate itself and verify the messages of the other device on the road,” says Cho.

Cho adds that cybersecurity for C-ITS technology is broken down into three sections: one is responsible for enrolling the device, the other for issuing certifications and then finally the last section is the tool to revoke the certification of a device that is deemed to be “misbehaving.”

“These sections are designed to work together yet they are separate to preserve the privacy of the users,” says Cho. “The whole system is designed like an orchestra with different instruments with the same goal to make sure C-ITS is secure and safe from the bad actors.”

According to Asad Farooq, manager of strategic initiatives at Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN), there is also a matter of what kind of new data the government and industry will be dealing with, given the massive volume that will be produced due to increased connectivity.

“The readiness of data usability, and the interoperability between the systems, and more importantly, having some sort of broader principles that work through with all the stakeholders that are [in] play [from] the vehicle to the road users, infrastructure, is definitely crucial,” says Farooq.

Importance of building infrastructure to scale

During the panel discussion, Jeffrey DeCoux, chairman at Autonomy Institute, a cooperative research and operational consortium focused on advancing intelligent infrastructure, notes the deployment of infrastructure to support this technology does not have to be extensive but that it has to be “at scale.”

This is because there is a lot of complexity and challenges the industry in North America is facing on how to deploy the different types of infrastructure, from roadside units to cameras, LiDars and more, says DeCoux.

“If we solve that challenge and build this new asset class, which we call pins or intelligent infrastructure, it’s going to create this massive build-out [of infastructure] that is already occurring in China, Italy and Korea and we as a nation are falling far behind,” says Decoux.

“If we don’t build out at scale, we will not be a 21st-century community the next 10 years.”

Limitations with increased connectivity

Currently, the technology available in North America can support communication between vehicle locations, help prevent crashes and do basic SPaT (Signal Phase and Timing) and map messaging.

But one of the barriers to connectivity is how to develop, test, and extract real-world data from technology that is highly dependent on its specific environment and human behaviour.

In its experience, iSmartWays Technology Inc. was able to deploy a project where it equipped one road intersection with a roadside unit and had a V2X-enabled vehicle send basic safety messages, SPaT messages, map messages or vehicle signage. Ten additional messages were sent out to communicate the different signs that were observed on roads directly to the vehicle and dashboard.

“We were given free rein to deploy and discuss with the city,” says Cheng. “In this process, we’ve noticed…the issue is then when we get into this transformative technology, we’re now not only synchronizing the vehicle, and all its standards and the infrastructure and all standards, you’re also working on the network level. And we see a significant difference between regions.”

Cheng adds that his company also noticed that cities are not prepared for this technology and the amount of data that will have to be dealt with. And because the technology is new and converges many types of technologies and language and messages, the talent in cities is having a hard to catching up.

” [We] talk about proving grounds or testbed facilities, right, or pilot quarters, right, where they’re blocking and geofencing areas. Those are all very beneficial…but in terms of getting actual real data, and the erratic behaviours and the differences of all the different road lanes and segments – it really takes a commitment from cities because you can’t really create a fake city to test this,” says Cheng.