New hybrid GPS, DSRC, 4G units look to be the way of the future

March 13, 2013

2013-03-12: Trucks are increasingly being equipped with hybrid units handling GPS satellite positioning, DSRC, and wireless in the one radio. German heavy (12+ tons) trucks pay their tolls on the autobahn network with Toll Collect hybrid on-board units (OBUs) that use a combination of GPS, regular wireless mobile and roadside beacons for continuously recording their whereabouts and mobile phone (GSM) links to report their account ID and trip data so they can be tolled.

The same OBUs all incorporate a 5.8GHz CEN278 transponder. For years no use was made of it. But now when they travel the fully CEN278 DSRC tolled Austrian highway system they can pay Austrian tolls (GoMaut) making use of the DSRC component.

With business rules and backoffice arrangements for clearing tolls the hybrid unit could be used for under-gantry toll collection over much of Europe (not Italy) which tolls with the 5.8GHz CEN standard DSRC - rather similar in capability to E-ZPass.

The Toll Collect system in Germany has some 300 gantries for enforcement that use longer wireless links rather than DSRC for the data transfers. The purpose of the gantries is to carry laser profilers for vehicle detection and classification and to trigger cameras to photograph vehicles and their license plates. No DSRC is used there.

750,000 trucks are now equipped with the Toll Collect hybrid OBUs. They collect the truck tolls on 13,000km, 8.000 miles of German highways with some 6,000 segments (between interchanges).

Toll Collect goes back to 2005.

The company is a joint venture of Daimler, Deutsche Telecom and Cofiroute. It has a monopoly in truck toll collection in a contract with the German government, and it is a very costly system that no one has replicated. The sparsity of gantry enforcement (300 gantries for 6,000 highway segments) requires a large mobile enforcement effort - lots of uniformed enforcement officers with mobile wireless driving around in vans.

France's Ecotax

The French are now building a bigger system called Ecotax to toll trucks down to 3.5 tons over 15,000km, 9200 miles of non-tolled highways. The Ecotax toll won't apply on 8,000km, 5,000 miles of French toll motorways so the Ecotax onboard unit is also a hybrid. On the many tollroads of Europe it will use the CEN278 DSRC capability of the OBU, and it can use GSM wireless and satellite for location finding. Siemens is the latest major company to offer OBUs or hybrid units for the French truck toll system.

Europe has way less interoperability (IOP) of electronic toll collection than the United States - nothing even approaching E-ZPass - despite a decade of the CEN 278 standard and conforming front end equipment. And despite repeated 'directives' of the European Commission going back to 2004 on establishment of a European Electronic Toll Service (EETS.) Apart from intra-national interoperability they only have a Scandinavian IOP called EasyGo, and between Germany and Austria with TOLL2GO and that's only for truck tolls.

The problem is lack of business and back office arrangements, not front end equipment differences.

Plus their equipment is extremely expensive and customer unfriendly. Toll Collect flatly refuses to reveal the price it pays for the OBUs, apparently because it is so embarrassingly high. The units are leased to truckers as part of a service bundle.

The talk is their OBUs cost $300 to $400 each. Major manufacturer of the OBUs is Siemens.

Customer unfriendly: Toll Collect OBUs are required to be installed by a Toll Collect certified installer, adding probably another $100 to $200 to the unit cost.

France at least has multiple suppliers for Ecotax and the OBUs in France will be installed by the driver. No certified installer needed. Siemens is also a supplier of the hybrid OBUs to be used in France but there at least they'll have to compete so prices will drop.

Silicon Valley firm

The real breakthrough in hybrid GPS/DSRC/wireless radios and pricing seems to be occurring here in the US.

A Silicon Valley (Santa Clara) company Arada Systems has developed a hybrid unit that does 5.9GHz DSRC 802.11p, GPS (to <1m), 4G wireless, WiFi, and Bluetooth. They won a competitive procurement last October for the roadside units (CORRECTION) brandname LocoMate for the NHTSA/USDOT's connected vehicle safety pilot deployment in Ann Arbor Michigan. The company which has specialized previously in WiFi was in competition with many bigger name companies.

They've done testing and certification by OmniAir for the 5.9GHz WAVE DSRC for the reader/OBU combination. The unit has 16MB of flash storage.

And unlike the Europeans for whom talking price is more embarrassing than talking sex, the Silicon Valley company immediately told us their prices for OBUs - $40 to $50 per unit for an order of 100,000, less for contracts for larger numbers.

Arada Systems' Dominic Paulraj told us they've designed their OBU units to be manufactured and priced for a mass market and to be installed by anyone who can install an E-ZPass on the windshield. They contain multiple communications functions in the one board and a single antenna for the radio's multiple modes to keep costs down.

Their major bet is on a NHTSA/USDOT mandate for the units to be installed in all news cars for safety applications and they are looking to the market in existing vehicles.

NOTE: 5.9GHz/wireless in-vehicle radios for the Michigan project were supplied by Denso, Cohda and Savari. And in addition to Arada Systems, roadside units or readers were supplied by Savari. ADDITION/CORRECTION Mar 14 2300


Kapsch supplier in the US of E-ZPass and of ASTMv6 truck transponders is also very active in this area. As a long established supplier of DSRC systems to HELP PrePass for weigh inspection station DSRC across a bunch of states (and tolling on the New York State Thruway) they have an inside running on gaining a contract for the HELP PrePass group's new technology procurement.

Likely next year it will start a transition from ASTMv6 915MHz to 5.9GHz WAVE DSRC.

Kapsch has run live demonstrations with trucks at weigh and inspection stations on I-70 Missouri to Indiana. The units they demonstrated are not yet on their official list of products but they will have to be at least dual mode, because HELP PrePass says a requirement will be that they work with at least E-ZPass as well as delivering broadband 5.9GHz WAVE.

HELP PrePass told us they'd only proceed if they can get prices on units comparable with their existing equipment - also around $40 for orders of 100k. And they want their units to have at least the capability of present ASTMv6 units that work the E-ZPass.

In Europe Kapsch supplies hybrid units with satellite, wireless and 5.8GHz CEN278 DSRC. They have a hybrid unit here with GPS, 5.9GHz, WAN wireless and Bluetooth - the OBU-TS3306 (see link) which is likely the candidate for HELP PrePass. It doesn't incorporate any regular US 915MHz DSRC.

They are working on much more than tolling.

Just this week they got the contract for 5.9GHz DSRC readers and transponders for a truck parking connected vehicle system at five sites on I-94 that Michigan DOT is sponsoring.  HNTB are MDOT's project engineers.

Eric Morris HNTB project manager is saying the Kapsch demonstrations for Prepass and their expertise in 5.9GHz made them the best choice for the Michigan project.

The announcement says: "The in-vehicle segment of the Kapsch solution will consist of a location-based application running on the TS3306 5.9 GHz DSRC On-Board Unit and a truck parking application user interface hosted on an off-the-shelf Android-based tablet. The roadside segment will feature the MTX-9450 5.9 GHz DSRC WAVE Transceiver, interfacing with MDOT's Advanced Traffic Management System, which will furnish real-time truck parking availability data."

5.9GHz ruled out for initial IOP

On the downside 5.9GHz WAVE seems to have been ruled out as a candidate for one of two protocols to be chosen for national interoperability of electronic tolling on the grounds that the deadline of July 2016 rules out sufficient testing to satisfy the E-ZPass group.

TOLLROADSnews 2013-03-12

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