In the near future, our cars will talk to each other. They'll share data about their location, speed, and direction, extending the range of a driver's senses far beyond their own - around corners, over crests and through trucks.
It's a step-jump technology that will prevent thousands of collisions and eventually pave the way for autonomous vehicles to take to the highways.
South Australia's Cohda Wireless, a pioneer of the technology, manufactures key hardware and software components in what is referred to as Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication, Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communication, or the collective term for both, V2X.
When a car senses the possibility of a collision with another car equipped with the technology, it warns the driver, allowing them to take steps to avoid an incident.
Paul Gray, CEO of Cohda Wireless
CEO of Cohda Wireless, Paul Gray, said that they've been working on the technology for around seven years, waiting for the market to break.
"This technology could move us from helping people survive crashes to helping them avoid crashes altogether"
"The market itself suffers from a bit of a chicken or the egg dilemma, because to get the advantages of the safety system, it needs to be in your car and the other car you're about to have a collision with," explained Gray.
An announcement from the United States' Department of Transport (DoT) looks like it will be the one to crack that egg - a notice of proposed rulemaking to mandate implementation of V2V in all future vehicles.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that V2V represents the next great advance in saving lives on the road.
"This technology could move us from helping people survive crashes to helping them avoid crashes altogether - saving lives, saving money and even saving fuel thanks to the widespread benefits it offers," Foxx said.
Each car equipped with V2X technology communicates with other vehicles and infrastructure, sending and receiving valuable safety information.
Preliminary estimates in the DoT notice show that just two V2V safety applications, Left / Right Turn Assist, warning drivers not to turn in front of another vehicle, and Intersection Movement Assist, warning drivers if it is not safe to enter an intersection, could prevent up to 592,000 crashes and save over a thousand lives per year in the US alone.
The mandate, if instituted, will have far reaching impact on the industry - especially for Cohda, whose technology is used in around 60% of all V2V trials around the world.
"We're a strong player there, and that has generated revenue to keep the doors open whilst we're waiting for it to the next step in to production vehicles," Paul Gray said.
Cohda announced their latest product at the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Detroit on September 7, the MK5 fifth generation V2V unit, co-developed with strategic investor, NXP Semiconductors.
It's the smallest unit they've produced to date, for use in either on-board, roadside or aftermarket radio module. It's a significant upgrade on previous iterations, bringing safety information to the driver much more quickly.
A roadside unit version of the MK5 by Cohda.
The strategic investment from tech giants NXP Semiconductors and Cisco Systems around two years ago was a sign to many tech spectators that V2V was approaching major market readiness.
"Partnerships with both companies are really important as far as opening doors for us and co-developing new products," said Gray, "and it's interesting, at the time some commentators pointed to that as a sign that the market was reaching maturity, now the big companies are willing to invest in it."
While a Detroit office offshoot of the Adelaide-based company positions them well for the US market, their Munich office looks to take advantage of European developments.
European governments are taking a different approach to V2X integration, focusing on Vehicle-to-Infrastructure instead.
"The Netherlands, Germany and Austria have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to deploy infrastructure for the technology, running a corridor from Amsterdam to Germany to Vienna," Gray explained.
Rather than directly mandating vehicles to take on the technology, they hope that installing it in infrastructure will encourage take up.
Cars equipped with V2X will communicate with infrastructure, able to display information to the driver about speed limits, traffic congestion, roadwork, and the timing of traffic lights.
"It's more of a carrot than a stick," Gray said.
Cohda Wireless was spun out of the University of South Australia a decade ago, as part of ITEK, the University's technology commercialisation company.
Since then, the company's main form of revenue has been through trials conducted around the globe by universities, governments and motor safety bodies.
"That becomes an important play for Cohda in the future, providing that central technology for driverless cars"
V2X technology differentiates itself, Gray says, from other safety technology at play in vehicles now, as it's the only one that truly extends a driver's senses.
"It's kind of unique. All the other sensors like cameras, radar and even lidar are only line of sight. They can't see anything the driver can't see if the driver is paying attention and looking in the right direction."
That's where the company's future lies, according to Gray. Beyond the implementation of V2X technology in production cars or as an aftermarket product, the prevalence of driverless cars will cement its place as a crucial safety technology.
"The key to the driverless car is vehicle sensors - a way for the vehicle to sense what's around them. This technology fits really well in to that. That becomes an important play for Cohda in the future, providing that central technology for driverless cars."