2019 SAE WCX: Connected cars and autonomous vehicle rides in Detroit

AmericaJR's Jerome Rzucidlo gets inside an self-driving Lincoln test vehicle. (Gloria Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)

DETROIT — The 2019 SAE World Congress Experience (WCX) returned to Detroit’s Cobo Center from April 9-11.  It offered many special events such as Autonomous Demonstrations which gave people a hands-on experience with automated vehicles.  These vehicles reinforced engineering advancements designed to enable safety and show their automated functions.

My husband and I had the rare opportunity to go on a test drive in a self-driving Lincoln MKZ.  We were on a closed course inside Cobo Center with a professional driver monitoring the self-driving mode.  It was very exciting to sit in the back seat with a steering wheel and to experience manual mode if, in fact, the communication went down.  There was a monitor in front center dash and two in the back, which allows you to see the route the vehicle was taking according to the GPS.  There was a distraction vehicle which pulled in front of ours so you can see how the sensors avoid a collision.    I am excited to see what the future will bring regarding autonomous vehicles.

I also attended a talk on the C-V2X (Cellular-Vehicle to Everything) use on the Road for Safety and Efficiency in the Learning Lab.  Jovan Zagajac from Ford Motor Company, explained that C-V2X is an integrated technology platform that embraces more comprehensive vehicle and traffic safety.  It allows vehicles to communicate with each other and the wider transport ecosystem.  This includes V2V (vehicle to vehicle communications), V2N (vehicle to network communications), V2P (vehicle to pedestrians communications), and V2I (vehicle to infrastructure communications). 

He talked about the C-V2X and its role in the automotive industry, which has two complementary communication modes.  One is “direct” where it talks to each other without the cell tower or base station.  “Traffic agents are beacons enabling cooperative awareness,” says Zagajac.  The other is “network.”  “These components are where the future is.  There are two things to stress:

  1. Vehicles are talking to each other and can make joint decisions on who goes next.  This its true cooperative communication.
  2. Role of pedestrians.  Your phone is another device we can use for right of way.

“Ford will deploy C-V2X in all vehicles in the United States beginning 2022.  In 2019, all vehicles will have modems,” added Zagajac.   5GAA (5G Automotive Association) brings together telecommunications industries to accelerate global deployment of Cellular Vehicle to Everything (C-V2X) as a first step towards a fully integrated system.

C-V2X includes both short range, direct communications and long range cellular network communications.  It perfectly complements on-board sensor technologies by extending “field of vision” further down the road and enhances their short-range communication capacities.  Connected cars equipped with 5G will provide drivers and passengers with the ability to watch tv, listen to music, play games and access information (maps, routes, parking, traffic, news, etc.) in real time while traveling safely and efficiently.

The next talk I attended was the Momentum and Commercial Readiness also in the Learning Lab, which was hosted by Christopher Armstrong, Director of Smart Mobility at Panasonic in Denver.  He noted there are three key subsystems:

  1. Device goes into a car receiving data
  2. Roadside equipment for roadway safety
  3. V2X Ecosystem

“Panasonic partnered with Ficosa Automotive and Qualcomm for the first commercial grade C-V2X onboard units.  We began employing them in Colorado Department of Transportation commercial vehicles.  Currently there are 94 vehicles collecting data.  We also built the first commercial C-V2X and DSRC (dedicated short-range communication) dual mode roadside unit.  We want to listen to all cars.  The network language is different on DSRC and C-V2X.  There are 100 roadside unit installations along the roadways in the corridor from downtown Denver to west Vail.  We are collecting data on weather, traffic management, camera management and data analysis,” says Armstrong.  

“Weather is a major part of our data research, especially in winter weather.  Our data predicts major weather systems along the roadway.  There is interaction between vehicles and infrastructure.”

For more information about the 2019 SAE WCX, visit

 Jovan Zagajac, manager of connected vehicle technology at Ford Motor Co. (Photo by Jerome Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)
 Chris Armstrong, director of smart mobility at Panasonic North America (Photo by Jerome Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)
A Chevrolet Bolt EV outfitted with GM’s Cruise driverless technology. (Jerome Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)
A Tesla Model S is parked in the SAE Mobility History Committee section. (Photo by Jerome Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)
Welcome to the 2019 SAE World Congress Experience (Photo by Jerome Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)

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