May 25, 2018   |   Updated: July 9, 2019

With self-driving cars slated to hit European roadways in 2021, the question of how they’ll communicate with other vehicles is an increasingly pressing one. What’s emerging is the Internet of Vehicles, a system that will allow vehicle-to-vehicle communications, as well as greater insight into human-driven connected cars and trucks on the road. We talked with some of our expert members to find out more about the technologies involved, and the impact they’re likely to have.

Computing Power

The number of computers and sensors already in use in cars we own is likely to surprise you – according to Kevin Curran, IEEE Senior member and a professor of cybersecurity at Ulster University, “Vehicles have evolved to contain a complex network of as many as 100 independent computers, or electronic control units (ECUs).” These ECUs rely on over 20 million lines of code, particularly in today’s luxury cars. When outfitted for full self-driving capability, that number will increase.


Having vehicles communicate with each other and with their surroundings is crucial for safety. Fortunately, automakers and governments have been working on this for a number of years. Two interactions are at the core of their work:

  • Road-to-vehicle communications. Curran: “We can expect driverless cars to become more reliant on indestructible road sensors embedded in the road and ‘turned on’ during construction, maintenance or in emergencies, alerting each vehicle to the need to reduce speed or halt.” These communicative infrastructures will also include traffic signal control systems, parking information, weather reports, and more.
  • Vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Curran, again: “With 5G technology offering less than 10ms latency, we can have proper real-time communication with cars, which can be the difference between life and death.” In the event of an accident, this technology “could automatically send vital details to emergency services such as time of collision, GPS location, vehicle description, vehicle licence number and registered owner,” saving crucial moments in life-threatening situations.


In welcome news, the Internet of Vehicles will help alleviate (although not entirely eradicate) traffic, reducing the 250 hours the average commuter spends behind the wheel a year. It will also cut down on collisions, potentially up to 80 percent by 2035, because, as Curran says, “self-driving cars don’t get distracted as much.”

Robust sensors also have great implications when it comes to deliveries. Sukanya Mandal, IEEE member (India): “It’s always been challenging to keep track of the vehicle that is out for logistical delivery. In my opinion, the Internet of Vehicles plays a significant role in the safe delivery of goods as it enables real-time tracking of shipments, warehouse-capacity optimization, predictive asset maintenance, route optimization, and improved last-mile delivery.”

When to Expect It

Society is rarely quick to embrace automotive change. Even life-saving technologies like antilock brakes took years to catch on.

For Shawn Chandler, IEEE Senior member and director at Navigant, “The Internet of Vehicles is truly in its infancy today, but given recent advances, will likely transport the majority of goods between distribution centers safely within the next five years.” Due to the complexity of delivery in traffic and close quarters, adoption in urban environments will take longer.

IEEE’s Involvement

IEEE has two societies with a heavy focus on the intelligent automotive field: the Vehicular Technology Society (VTS) and the Intelligent Transportation Systems Society (ITSS). Make sure to read about the VTS’ work with the IEEE 1609 Family of Standards for Wireless Access in Vehicular Environments, which is helping secure vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

To see how the Internet of Vehicles is changing our food supply chain, visit our hot topic on agriculture and the Internet of Things.


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