NHTSA

The Federal Communications Commission just quintupled the allocation of the radio spectrum for motor vehicle use, a move paving the way for advanced, self-driving car innovation, Reuters reported. But what do driverless cars have to do with radio frequencies? A lot, it turns out.

Cars rely on a variety of radars, sensors and lasers that operate on the FCC-controlled airwaves to predict autonomous braking, detect blind spots, produce lane change warnings and signal for other road obstructions.

Many consumer vehicles already employ these features, since the FCC already approved a smaller portion of the spectrum to cars in 1995.

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Cars of the future take it one step further. One day, cars will use this radio spectrum to send and receive advanced data and signals related to roadside conditions. Coined “connected cars,” these vehicles could end up sending information to other cars, the surrounding infrastructure and even objects like you’re phone.

If done correctly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association predicts connected cars could prevent up to 80 percent of non-impaired crashes, including crashes at intersections or while changing lanes. The perceived safety benefit is so great, the U.S. Department of Transportation suggested requiring all cars be connected by 2023.

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After Thursday’s ruling, automakers get five gigahertz of the spectrum to experiment rather than just one. The move also makes the U.S. spectrum uniform to that in Europe, preventing developers from needing to make different sensors for different places and allowing for faster deployment in the states. Differing standards worldwide are an expensive hurdle in the car industry, tripping up everything from crash structures to how turn signals blink.

Though the FCC’s getting a lot wrong in advancing innovation, at least it’s taking a backseat in driverless car communication.