October 22, 2018 @ 12:01 am 

MARYSVILLE, Ohio — Install a few cameras in an intersection and people start asking questions.

Last November, Marysville mounted four cameras above the traffic lights at an nondescript intersection as part of a pilot project with Honda, which would use them to capture video of vehicles and pedestrians at a range of up to 300 feet to test vehicle-to-everything, or V2X, communications technology.

The setup would enable specially equipped Hondas to virtually see through and around walls and buildings to help drivers detect other motorists and pedestrians to avoid potential crashes.

But at the time, residents didn’t know all of that. They thought it was a way to trap them with speeding tickets.

Without explaining the project’s details, Marysville Public Service Director Mike Andrako said, he informed residents they didn’t have to worry and assured them that autonomous vehicles weren’t involved.

The city responded directly to the public, easing potential concerns about the technology’s rollout.

“We said it’s for traffic monitoring,” Andrako told Automotive News. Things were fine “once they found out it had nothing to do with autonomous vehicles. It was just connected [vehicles]. I’ve been doing education and explaining self-driving cars are coming, but this isn’t a self-driving car project. All these cars will have drivers. That calmed everybody down.”

The episode highlights the lingering concerns about use of advanced vehicle technology, especially self-driving systems. In the case of V2X, it also shows the importance of forming partnerships with the cities where testing will take place and communicating with residents.

The collaboration can be seen at multiple levels, from Marysville agreeing to install the cameras for Honda in the first place, to providing the law enforcement needed to control traffic when it was time to practice different scenarios.

It’s the latest example of the change Honda has brought to Marysville in the four decades since it began building motorcycles and cars there in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a period in which the small town became a manufacturing hub and a major r&d center.

Honda says the pilot seeks to address the limitations of onboard vehicle sensors in dealing with traffic collisions at intersections. Such accidents account for roughly 40 percent of all collisions and 20 percent of the roughly 35,000 traffic-related deaths in the U.S. each year, Honda said.

Honda showcased the “smart intersection” on Oct. 4 to journalists and officials such as Gov. John Kasich. The event, which required blocking off several streets around the small town, drew crowds of spectators.

Honda demonstrated how the cameras interact with vehicles via dedicated short-range communications in three situations. In one, the intersection cameras detected when an ambulance’s lights — with no sirens — began to flash. The system then broadcast that information to an approaching Honda vehicle, which was alerted with verbal warnings of an incoming emergency vehicle and a visual cue on the head-up display.

In another scenario, the system tipped off the driver to a car that was about to run a red light. The third scenario tells the driver that a pedestrian is in the road before the car turns.

The technology is limited to those three situations for now.

The city hopes to create more of these futuristic intersections on its own. Andrako said the plan is to outfit city vehicles such as police cars with dedicated short-range communications technology, thanks to a $5.9 million federal grant, as well as recruit 400 residents to try it on their personal vehicles.

Marysville is part of Ohio’s 33 Smart Mobility Corridor, a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 northwest of Columbus that is touted as a test bed for advanced transportation technologies.

Honda said 20 employee vehicles have been retrofitted to let the smart intersection communicate with them, so it will be able to glean insights into how the technology performs in real-world conditions.

The introduction of new tech, however, can come with risks. Ted Klaus, vice president of strategic research at Honda R&D Americas, pointed to the impact on those driving behind Honda’s connected cars in vehicles that don’t receive warnings at the intersection.

“Imagine if someone were to suddenly decelerate, but a nonconnected vehicle that’s following them were to rear-end them,” Klaus said.

“It’s not a risk-free pilot,” he said. “But as we begin this pilot, we think those risks are reasonable in order to understand the benefits.”