Savari’s technology senses ‘intent of other cars’

Leslie Schneider

Friday, May 11, 2018

Mobility company makes automated-and-connected cars safer

Picture this: A vehicle encounters ice on a highway and transmits a warning. Drivers behind the sliding vehicle get a “Slippery Road Ahead” message on their touchscreens or handheld devices, and know to slow to avoid a crash. A vehicle passing on the opposite side of the highway then “tells” nearby vehicles there’s a traffic jam ahead, allowing drivers to exit and avoid delay.

Sharing real-life, real-time data between vehicles, infrastructure and pedestrians using vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology may significantly improve safety, energy and efficiency on the world’s roads.

V2X pioneer Savari has been working on such technology for more than a decade. A leap beyond vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication, V2X vehicles transmit to and receive data from vehicles, roads, traffic signals and buildings as well as mobile devices and people.

Savari’s SmartCross phone app communicates with vehicles and traffic signal systems to tell pedestrians when it’s safe to cross roads.

“Today, most vehicles have driver warning systems,” said CEO Ravi Puvvala. “We’re trying to improve the accuracy of that. You can build a self-driving car that can actually sense the intent of all the other cars around you. That notification can be broadcasted to cars behind you.”

Location is critical to tech success

Savari, which was a primary supplier in the 2012 Safety Pilot project in Ann Arbor, the largest connected vehicle project to date in North America, already had offices in California and Asia. 

However, Puvvala said once the company created its wireless technology, it needed an office at the epicenter of mobility. So, in 2014, Savari opened a Michigan location.

“If you look at the differentiation of our products, it all comes from our innovation center in Farmington Hills,” he said. “We have always believed in bridging the talent between Silicon Valley and Detroit, not only with how the technology gets developed but also how it’s being adapted into the automotive industry.”

Having a Michigan location provides Savari with direct access to 16 OEMs, the state’s numerous Tier 1 and 2 auto suppliers and innovative academic research. 

Working with government transportation groups and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), Savari supplied roadside units for 23 intersections and 1,200 onboard units for the real-world Ann Arbor pilot. The project uses dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) that has a 328-foot range.

Technology drives safety

The groundbreaking project was such a success, it received renewed funding and is evolving, explained Debby Bezzina, senior program manager for the latest test project, called the Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment, at UMTRI.

For that, stakeholders, including Savari, are upgrading technology to meet the latest standards and correcting or refining issues they discovered during the pilot. They are also adding infrastructure, vehicles and roadside units.

“It’s very exciting,” Bezzina said. “We’ll have 49 intersections broadcasting signal, phase and timing for traffic control. They’ll tell onboard units the status of the light, the status of a particular lane and how long it will stay in that state, and it tells a driver their vehicle needs to stop.”

Other areas will broadcast curve speed or ice warnings. They are also equipping a roundabout, four pedestrian mid-block crosswalks and 10 freeway sites.

Talent and funding propel technology

Savari “is at the forefront and they always have been,” Bezzina said. “It’s challenging. But they make it look simple.”

She said the tech company is one of the few local suppliers that actually has talent on site. “If (startups) have an office here, it doesn’t always mean that they have people here who can do the work.”

Savari’s relationship with the University of Michigan goes way back, Puvvala explained. “This is one of the reasons we have an office in Farmington Hills. We can monitor and get feedback from customers.”

UMTRI’s ability to attract extensive research funding is a huge advantage as well, he said.

Scott McCormick, president of the Connected Vehicle Trade Association in East Lansing, Mich., said early participants like Savari have been critical to moving the technology forward. The association has members from 24 different industries based in seven countries.

“There are a lot of companies that think, ‘I can jump into this,’ but they really don’t get it,” McCormick added. “Savari has paid their dues. They have a stake in the ground that says, ‘I’m going to be part of the future.’”

Collaboratively and proactively safe

In January this year, Savari announced it was working with Qualcomm Technologies to produce comprehensive cellular, or wireless, technology (CV2X) for boosted safety. Though 5G compatible, it does not rely on a cellular network. But it has 360-degree awareness, works at night and in bad weather and can predict what drivers will do. The companies expect to commercially deploy CV2X in 2020 vehicles.

Such technology will have a larger impact than the Internet, McCormick predicted.

“Half of the people in a hospital emergency room each weekend are from car crashes,” he said. “We can get rid of 80 or more percent of those fatal accidents (with this technology). The fundamental issue is, if we know where you’re at and where you’re going, what the road, weather and traffic information is, you have real-time knowledge. You’re being collaboratively and proactively safe.”

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