This year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the idea that radio communication between cars could make travel safer, which was a bold vision back then. Then later on, as mobile devices became one of the pillars of modern societies, the abundance of affordable radio equipment started to make connected cars a reality in the early 2000s. To mark the centenary, we interviewed a number of global experts who have helped and are still helping to develop the market for connected and cooperating vehicles. In the final episode of the series, we give you a glimpse into the history of Commsignia with CTO and Executive President Laszlo Virag.
Commsignia has been here for more than a decade in the not much longer history of V2X. How did it all start?
My fellow founders and I were working and researching in this area long before Commsignia. The huge EU-funded CVIS project between 2006 and 2010 included more than 60 industry partners and we were working on the software part. It was responsible for selecting the right communication interfaces for each application and providing the seamless handover between the vehicles (vehicle-to-vehicle) and the infrastructure (vehicle-to-infrastructure). There were applications like collision avoidance, map updates and even distributing advertisements on vehicles, and we were using interfaces such as wifi, bluetooth, cellular, DSRC and also infrared communication depending on the situation and the quality of service requirements. We were already working on standardization and defining quality of service at that time.
It was such a ground-breaking architecture that the world is still trying to catch up with it. There was no question then whether Uu [cellular connection] or PC5 [direct connection] was needed, yet it took many years for the industry to come to the point again that these two interfaces are not competing technologies, but complementary.
Although the platform and architecture were there, as researchers we ran into the problem that only large and expensive prototypes existed for implementation. Many articles have talked about why devices cannot be implemented with existing wifi technologies. We saw that many people were stuck with it, but we thought: that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. So we did it. We tweaked existing wifi solutions, and created a simple 802.11p-based solution that we could offer at a very reasonable price. This handcrafted solution is what started things for us: creating electronics, communications software, security components and applications.
What has helped the company grow?
At first, growth was organic, and when we had the capital, we hired our first employees. The real scale-up happened when the industry saw our solution working and wanted to buy not just 5-10 units, but hundreds. It also showed that craftsmanship does not scale. We started to grow the team more aggressively, and as we became involved in more projects, we got to know the V2X automotive market. It required a completely different mindset. It was out of the question for Commsignia to produce the electronics for a million cars, so we agreed to provide the software.
The competition here was quite strong. There were companies in Europe working on similar solutions and three strong competitors in the US, but only one of the latter now exists. They all had traction, a bigger team and a market presence. In many cases we have won customers by not compromising on quality. It was hard to learn that in business, the best doesn’t always win, but good product and customer support pays off in the end.
What are the challenges facing the company and the industry?a
The challenge for the whole industry and society is the slow pace of V2X deployments. There have been various disruptions. The global economic crises and the Covid pandemic have all had an impact on the uptake of V2X. In addition, road safety has not been as important for end users in the past. When they had to choose between a better audio system or an airbag, they did not choose better safety. This has changed, but the industry still has to find an incentive scheme that helps implement safety improvements. This is a multi-stakeholder game, V2X needs a boost not just from one stakeholder group, like cities or car companies, but from everybody together. Fortunately, many stakeholders have been deploying V2X technologies in the US, EU and all over the globe with the goal of solving safety and efficiency issues on the roads as of today. The outcomes of these deployments show the usefulness of the system and provide hard evidence for future investments in a much broader scale involving micro-mobility players as well.
The US Department of Transportation has recently launched a new initiative involving all industry stakeholders, and we are on track for orders of magnitude larger deployments in the US. All in all, the V2X market is moving ahead with great momentum. I am sure that in the coming decades V2X will become as essential a part of transport as seat belts are now. This is certainly necessary to achieve one of society’s most important goals: efficient transport with zero injuries and deaths.