FCC is now Making Room on the Airwaves for Autonomous Vehicles

51

Despite the Federal Communications Commission making a mess of net neutrality right now, it remains capable of serving corporate interests and the general public simultaneously. On Thursday, the FCC quintupled the allocation of the radio spectrum used for motor vehicle and aircraft radar systems to help avoid crashes.

While the majority of autonomous cars also use laser guidance and a complex network of cameras to navigate, radar remains an integral component. Presently, the 1 GHz of spectrum set aside in 1995 has been sufficient for self-driving vehicles using adaptive cruise control or automatic emergency braking. But we’re about to enter an era of connected cars that will be required to “speak” to one another, and those vehicles will need plenty of space to talk — 5 GHz of bandwidth, to be precise. 

In addition to making it easier for tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles to communicate, the extra bandwidth also allows for better calibration of the radar systems currently in use. Theoretically, a wider wave range should also help autonomous vehicles to better distinguish between objects and be more accurate in estimating their placement on the road.

The decision also places U.S. vehicles on the same spectrum as those in Europe, allowing automakers to bring technologies to the each market more swiftly and engage in more cooperative development projects.

According to Reuters, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association is predicting connected cars could prevent up to 80 percent of non-impaired crashes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is so stoked on the idea that it has proposed requiring all cars be connected by 2023. Even though persistent valid concerns about the risks associated with connected cars exist, until a terrorists tries to implement a cyber attack on the scale of The Fate of the Furious’ ludicrous car-hacking scene, it should be a net gain for consumer safety. Either way, vehicle-to-vehicle communications will someday become commonplace — and already is on a few models.

Thankfully, auto manufacturers are continuing to roll out new, proven technologies that enable services like collision avoidance, blind spot monitoring, and lane change assistance,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “Vehicular radar systems can improve our driving experience and help our families stay safe.”

“By allocating a contiguous 76–81 GHz band to these services, we expand the existing 76–77 GHz allocation for vehicular radars by four gigahertz. We are also moving other vehicular radar operations from other bands to be consolidated into these frequencies. Access to this contiguous block of spectrum will allow for new innovations and the expansion of potentially life-saving vehicular radar technologies.”