Qualcomm sees a future where cars will not only be able to talk to each other but see and avoid pedestrians and cyclists, as long as they are carrying a phone. What's more, Ford, Audi and Ducati are among those already on board.
The new tech is called C-V2X and will enable cars, bikes, cyclists and other connected transport devices to see and talk each other. This will operate without having to rely on other technologies, such as the Lidar system already used in many self-driving car prototypes.
How C-V2X will work with cars?
The big idea is that cars will be able to see and talk to other cars on the road using a direct connection. This will occur when vehicles come into range of each other. They will therefore understand what's happening at interchanges, pedestrian crossings or road works.
In one example demoed by Qualcomm at CES, we saw how the C-V2X technology can be used for up to four vehicles to negotiate the right of way in entering a four-way, non-signalised intersection when there is no visible line-of-sight.
The technology has to be installed in each of the cars the work. And, while the system is primarily powered by 5G technologies, it still works without the need of a phone signal.
Currently, cars have to rely on complex radar detection systems that are more like an advanced pair of eyes when it comes to driver assistance.
But the C-V2X technology could be used to aid the timing of traffic signals too, as it can easily see cars approaching and change the traffic systems accordingly. Another example is that it can also be used by emergency services to alert drivers of a ambulance or police car heading their way.
C-V2X and pedestrians
Where the technology gets even more interesting is in helping to avoid accidents. It can cleverly be used to spot pedestrians crossing the road or cyclists sharing the road with you.
"Imagine a person suddenly steps into the street from out of view and your vehicle stops because it was alerted by that person's smartphone," explained Don Butler, executive director of Ford's connected vehicle platform. "This is just one example of how C-V2X can connect smart vehicles to a smart world."
Qualcomm added that the technology is intelligent enough to detect pedestrians or cyclists nearby as long as they are carrying a phone which also includes C-V2X technology.
That could have huge ramifications in also helping cars detect people crossing the road at night or avoiding cycling accidents in bad weather.
Road Safety improvements
And it's not just about seeing other people, cars or bikes. Qualcomm explained that the tech could also be using for warning systems and road safety.
It could give drivers advanced warning of road construction works ahead, allowing them to maneuver in a safe manner.
Who is supporting this new C-V2X tech and when's it coming?
A number of car makers are involved already and are pledging support. Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, Telsa, Toyota and Ducati are currently working on integrating the technology into their fleets with Ford promising the tech will appear in its cars by 2022.
Likewise, city infrastructure firms are also trying to roll out the tech as quick as they can.
Applied Information, a leading provider of intelligent transportation infrastructure technology, has said that its LTE C-V2X products are now deployed in more than 500 US cities, counties, school districts and states.
It plans to eventually provide cellular connectivity to traffic signals, school zone flashing beacons, emergency vehicles and other traffic control devices with further plans to upgrade those to 5G this year.
Hopefully, we'll also see it roll out to other countries, such as the UK, in future.