2G, Not 5G, Best Bet to Accelerate Driverless Tech

Making our existing cars more ‘clever’ could be a better way of getting autonomous cars safely on our streets rather than relying on 5G connectivity.

That’s the view of Dr Ramsey Faragher founder and CEO of FocalPoint and a Fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge, who argues a 2G connection is ample when the car’s sensor arrays are sophisticated enough. Speaking exclusively to TU-Automotive, Faragher claimed cheap software can bridge the gap to truly smart automated transport rather than adding more expensive hardware.

He said the burden on bandwidth is driven by an increase in connected cars that is on a steep upward curve. Faragher said: “The two key points are that there are going to be a lot more connected vehicles around that will require the bandwidth and we will need 5G to achieve that yet this could give us more or a problem than we have at the moment in terms of range and mass.

“One of the solutions could be that we stop relying on the connectivity and make the vehicles so ‘clever’ that they barely need any communication with the rest of the world to function well. Then it will rely on how well their on-board sensors work and how clever is the programming at spotting any errors that are coming into those sensors.”

His own company claims a breakthrough in vehicle positioning using algorithms embedded in a vehicle’s positioning receivers. He explained: “This software application is a very powerful technology and it is also the cheapest part of the senor array on that autonomous vehicle. We are hoping to make the GPS chip much more clever by adding software to it in order to not having to add expensive hardware to the car like more cameras, radar or LiDAR. For autonomous vehicles to be truly here and ubiquitous they need to be economically viable and at the moment carmakers are putting more expensive hardware on the car which is not going to be viable in the long-term.”

He claims his solution requires no major infrastructure spending as would be the case with rolling out enough 5G transmitters to ensure a vehicle knows exactly where it is particularly in the GPS canyons found in most of our high-rise cities. “It’s not going to be viable to have an autonomous vehicle to be free to roam the whole of the UK but need to be within a 100-meters or so of a 5G connection,” said Faragher. “The solution is to have very clever software on-board the vehicle using low bandwidth, long-range communications to carry simple messages.”

He added that existing connectivity should be used to accelerate the advance of autonomous driving. “If you look at eCall for example when dealing with an accident where the emergency services have to be called, that connection uses a very low band width using a tradition 2G phone call. The other end of the spectrum, people are talking about streaming live video between vehicles so that the vehicle behind another one can see what’s in front of it.

“All these very bold views about how 5G could be used to share huge amounts of data, whereas the realistic solution is that the cars themselves are internally very clever and that the amount of connectivity they require is only low bandwidth, long-range stuff. The 2G connections that you and I have used for a long time with phone calls and text messages are sufficient.”

He explained that using a software application on a self-driving vehicle will solve the issue of many motorists face when losing GPS connections while driving among inner city skyscrapers. Faragher explained how it could work: “The biggest problem you have with GPS in cities is that, often, you are picking up a reflected version of the signal from the satellite.

“So, there is one very simple but very important piece of maths that goes on inside the receiver and that maths is based on the premise that the signal has travelled in a straight line from the satellite. However, if the signal bounces [off tall city tower blocks, for example] that maths can’t give you the right answer anymore and you get the wrong GPS position areas in cities.

“If you have very tall buildings, the signal can bounce 100-meters (330-feet) before it gets to the car. Our technology can, for the first time, allow the receiver to determine for itself which direction the signal actually arrived from. Instead of very expensive antennae, we have software solution that calculates if the signal is coming from the direction it should be or not. This allows us to do two things: firstly, we can discard the measurements coming from the wrong direction and just use the subset of data we determine to be line-of-sight to give us a more honest positioning.”

The really clever part is when the data is matched against a 3D high definition map of the city. Faragher continued: “Secondly, we can use the knowledge that signals are coming from different directions and that can be useful. Such as, if you have a 3D map of the city you can say this signal from satellite No. 4 is coming from a particular direction that it shouldn’t be which means there is probably a building in the way. So you can start to match where you might be in the street based on where reflected signals are coming from, where signals have been blocked completely and where signals are getting a mixture of true line-of-sight and reflected ones.”

He pointed out the process, described as either shadow-mapping or 3D map-aiding, is currently being explored by the ride-hail giant Uber which has said it is trying to implement these sort of concepts. Faragher did admit to get the most from the software, the process will depend on an on-going growth in 3D mapping databases being available to the connected car.

He said: “Accessing that second stage will involve some key entities such as Google with its rich set of databases for this. However, it does solve the connectivity issue because you won’t have to update the vehicle all the time but just now and again with the latest map databases. 5G is not critical for a self-driving car but some people may be leaning on it for their own particular reasons.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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