Lessons Learned from Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot Onboard Unit – Quality, Maturity, and Deployment Readiness

Connected Vehicle Pilot THEAThe Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) Connected Vehicle Pilot deployed 47 roadside units (RSUs) along THEA’s Reversible Express Lane and in Tampa’s Central Business District. At its peak, THEA deployed over 1,000 onboard units (OBUs) in personal vehicles, buses, and streetcars.

When THEA kicked off as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Connected Vehicle Pilot Program, research at the time indicated OBU vendors had stable hardware with several working applications. During Phase 1, THEA brought in multiple OBU vendors to demonstrate their hardware and software solutions.1

Most of the vendors demonstrated basic vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) applications such as Forward Collision Warning, Emergency Electronic Brake Light, and Intersection Movement Assist, and a few vendors demonstrated vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) applications that were specific to their product roadmap. Vendors who demonstrated at their own facilities had a much higher degree of success than those who demonstrated at THEA. This leads one to infer that the demonstrations at vendor facilities were more controlled than those vendors who tried to demonstrate at THEA in an unknown environment.

Selected vendors were asked to demonstrate their applications at THEA’s facilities. Of the three vendors, only one had previously demonstrated at THEA's facilities. In the initial testing by each vendor interacting with only their OBUs, there were both system and application issues such as GPS positioning, software bugs, and tuning. The vendor who had previously demonstrated at THEA’s facilities initially had the most success, which correlates to their time in Tampa previously. The lack of successful testing was a major concern to THEA, whose expectations were that these V2V applications were essentially off-the-shelf.

The project’s onboard vehicle integrator, with the cooperation of the three OBU vendors, THEA, and the infrastructure integrator, developed an OBU specification. As development began, the vendors struggled with the number of applications, debugging at their facilities versus THEA's, and the use of development staff outside the United States. During Phase 2 of the deployment, THEA unfortunately had to end one vendor's participation in the Connected Vehicle Pilot. While they had shown sufficient progress, their limited number of staff, inability to support the Connected Vehicle Pilot from outside the United States, and lack of any footprint in the United States were the primary factors in ending the partnership.

As the other two vendors continued development and testing, they collaborated not only among themselves and the onboard vehicle integrator, but also with the infrastructure integrator. This collaboration resulted in a close-knit relationship where problems could be openly discussed without a confrontational attitude. As a result, many issues were resolved in a more efficient manner. As the project transitioned from Phase 2 to Phase 3, both OBU vendors continued to fully support the Connected Vehicle Pilot.

Because connected vehicle technology is very complex to implement and deploy, there were challenges in migrating the applications from the laboratory and vendor’s local field testing to the THEA Connected Vehicle Pilot deployment area. One of the biggest lessons learned was realizing in hindsight that the field testing and integration were initially significantly underestimated. Moving a complex technology with many variables requires more testing in a deployed situation than in the laboratory. The lack of OBUs deployed and operating in a real-world environment was a considerable disadvantage to the vendors and the Connected Vehicle Pilot. Additionally, existing OBU applications were not as mature and ready to deploy as previously thought. Consequently, more effort had to be put into testing applications that were believed to be ready for deployment. Other deployers should take heed that certain applications may be falsely marketed as deployment ready, when they in fact still require additional research and development to work effectively.

1See Comprehensive Installation Plan for more detailed information.