Utah Grows Connected Vehicle Work with Panasonic Partnership

The Utah Department of Transportation has outlined a five-year, $50 million partnership with Panasonic Corp. of North America to develop what state officials are calling “the most advanced transportation data network.”

by / June 28, 2019
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High-tech highways and intersections are coming to Utah, as the state moves forward with a multi-year connected vehicle project, with improved safety as the end goal.

The state has outlined a five-year, $50 million partnership with Panasonic Corp. of North America to develop what state officials are calling “the nation's most advanced transportation data network.”

“We have long felt that connected vehicle technology, coupled with automated vehicle technology, will help us move toward zero fatalities. It’s really a safety story,” said Blaine Leonard, a technology and innovation engineer at the Utah Department of Transportation. “There are certainly mobility benefits. There are certainly other kinds of benefits, but our passion about this is really safety focused.”

The initial deployment will outfit about 30 Utah DoT fleet vehicles with onboard sensing and communications technologies, while also deploying similar equipment at about 40 roadside locations, said Leonard.

The exact locations have not yet been determined, but will likely depend on where the assets are, said Chris Armstrong, a vice president for Panasonic USA, leading the company’s “vehicle-to-everything” (V2X) business efforts.  

“Power, fiber communications and poles don’t exist everywhere. So, if we take all of the various inputs, you can imagine an optimization model that tells you where to put the devices,” said Armstrong. “It’s really about making good cost-benefit decisions about what roadways to install on, and where along those roadways to install them.”

Some of the data to be gathered from connected vehicles can offer insight into weather-related dangers as well as stalled vehicles or crashes.

“If we had the ability to know where traction control systems are going off, what the ambient air temperature is from all these different vehicles, maybe the windshield wiper status. Those are all data elements that’s part of what’s called the ‘basic safety method,’” said Armstrong.

These various data points, when taken together, can offer a clear understanding of real-time road conditions on specific sections of highway.

The system developed by Panasonic will add to the work Utah has already been doing in the world of connected vehicles and intelligent highways. In 2014 the state began deploying this type of technology so that today 127 intersections are equipped with connected vehicle infrastruture, communicating with buses and trucks.

“So we’ve been deploying the technology with this same focus, 'Hey, we’ve got move down this path.’ We’ve got to understand how to do it. We need to make it work,” said Leonard, adding UDoT decided the time had come to “scale up.”

“We needed to enhance our capabilities from a technical standpoint, and from a resource standpoint, to move this to the next level. And that’s how we got to this project,” said Leonard.

The connected vehicle technology will continue to use wireless communication, known as dedicated short-range communication (DSRC), capable of collecting and transmitting data at 10 times per second.  

One of the reasons Utah decided to move forward with a partnership with Panasonic had to do with the work the company is already involved in as a tier-one automotive supplier when it comes to connected vehicle technologies, Leonard said. 

“That’s one of the unique things they brought to the table, was that capability to interact aggressively with the automakers and kind of bring them into the partnership, if you will,” he added. 

Panasonic has been involved with a similar project along Interstate 70 in nearby Colorado.

“There will be differences between what we do, and what Colorado has done,” said Leonard. “But there will be some similarities as well. And so, what Panasonic develops for us, can get shared back to Colorado, and what they develop for Colorado can get shared back to us.”

“There’s a real partnership mentality here,” echoed Armstrong at Panasonic. “Where states are coming together, and a company like ours is coming together, to make sure that we’re moving the needle forward in the industry, not just customer by customer, but across the nation.

“Technology is coming quickly,” he added. “We have automotive announcements in 2021 and 2022 where these cars are going to be coming off the lot and communicating this data, and the states and cities are either going to be prepared for that and develop the systems that are ready to go and take advantage of that data on Day 1, or they’re going to get started then and have several years to go before they’re ready.”

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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