5G Claiming Success in CAV Testing

Vodafone has joined Midlands Future Mobility in the UK, giving a boost to the country’s real-world connect and autonomous mobility (CAM) testbed.

As telecoms website 5g.co.uk explains: “In all, thanks to Vodafone along with the Wireless Infrastructure Group, 80% of the Midlands Future Mobility urban route will be connected to 5G, which the network claims will make the West Midlands one of the best-connected environments in the country.”

Chris Lane, head of transport innovation, transport for West Midlands (TFWM) explains that Midlands Mobility Future is a public-private consortium, which can its partners – including Vodafone. For example, partners such as engineering company Costain can use the testbed to comprehend infrastructure products. The company can then take what it’s learnt and apply the lessons to other similar projects and other infrastructure products.

Another engineering services partner, AVL, is working with vehicle manufacturers, according to Lane, to explore how they can develop new product design. He adds: “Horiba Mira are one of the partners and their understanding is about what 5G means for them on the test track and how this translates into the real world.”

Real-world mobility

Lane believes it is vital to bring 5G to real-world connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) mobility testing: “I think the key thing is that we see 5G as a mobile technology of the future, that will be in the majority of people’s hands at some point. So, we need to make best advantage of technology and it provides us with some new opportunities that 4G wouldn’t have given you. For example, at a busy junction such as the M42 at Birmingham Airport, 4G would have struggled to send connected vehicle messages.

“That section of motorway is currently a managed motorway with messages being delivered by infrastructure such as on the gantry, with 5G you will have the option of in-vehicle messaging. The intention is for this to be built into the car, on your dashboard, but this is dependent on manufacturers building it into the vehicle. Autonomous vehicles are a little way off but motorways could be one of the first places you will see them and 5G allows us to talk to the car in a very reliable way.”

He predicts that the local traffic authorities could, with 5G, make some savings. However, he says many local authorities are struggling to meet their highways budgets. With 5G they can do things differently by providing digital services that can include messages being sent straight to each vehicle. The savings are created by reducing the need to build and maintain physical infrastructure.

Dr Matthew Higgins, associate professor for connectivity and wireless communications of WMG at the University of Warwick, which is part of the Midlands Future Mobility consortium, adds: “As is becoming ever more apparent, connected and automated mobility (CAM) is one of today’s most exciting research and innovation themes within both industry and academia. It is being demonstrated now on a daily basis through the media that CAM may provide real world impact on societal issues around safety, traffic flow and emissions.”

He then places a focus on the connections with the roadside infrastructure. While autonomous vehicles can make decisions to judge situations within their proximity, he says the connected element is “pivotal to enhancing the decision-making process to include information from the wider road network.” He explains: “For example, the ability for CAM to exchange inertia, LiDAR, camera, and radar sensor data, alongside video data from roadside infrastructure provides each vehicle with timely awareness of what is beyond their isolated line of sight. This in turn enables behaviors such as collision avoidance, adaptive speed control or platooning.”

Data-sharing capabilities

The network has to have the ability to share high volumes of data with appropriate timeliness for this to work. 5G technology will eventually supersede 4G. Much depends on the technical changes being completed to make it more commonly available. Once it is upgraded, and when everyone has switched to 5G devices, timeliness will be achieved by gaining faster data transfer speeds, allowing for increasing responsiveness to fit in with our current data-driven lifestyles.

Lane says Vodafone is vital to testing and as a consortium partner it can enable the partners to understand how well 5G and CAM work: “If you bought a 5G phone today, you wouldn’t get the full benefits but with a mobile network operator you can have a testbed that tests the new features and opportunities 5G offers as they arrive.”

By creating a testbed the consortium can challenge Vodafone to assess what else it can provide. This may include the provision of direct connected vehicle services.  It benefits too, allowing it to explore the opening up of new markets and new opportunities. Vodafone is learning what 5G can do for the automotive industry: e.g. for transport, mobility and our roads.

Higgins says 5G can enhance collision avoidance capabilities: “Crucially, 5G is more than just a faster internet connection. As a direct comparison over 4G, 5G will have a peak data rate 20 times currently on offer – up to 20Gbit/s, a user experience data rate 10 times that of now – up to 100Mbit/s but it is the fall in latencies by 10 times to 1ms that makes 5G useful in CAM.

“This fall in latency (the time it takes for data to complete its journey) will be critical to enhancing collision avoidance capabilities where every millisecond counts. Also the enhanced peak date rate will allow the sharing of high definition images between infrastructure and vehicles which may assist in so called ‘smarter decisions’ that include contextual information of the situation.”

Progressive initiatives

He adds that 5G development is ongoing. Meanwhile, there are what he describes as being progressive initiatives by government from the Centre for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS). These initiatives, he claims, are “accelerating the UK’s international competitiveness.

Lane adds that 5G will make CAVs smarter. This is because they can use communications technologies to talk to each vehicle. For example, messaging can be used to send each car advanced warnings of road and weather conditions in advance. “You would then be able to use other technologies to re-route vehicles or to help them make other decisions”, he explains.

V2V and V2I communications

With V2V communications cars can also talk to each other about, for example, obstacles in the road ahead. If a vehicle ahead is braking sharply, the vehicles behind it can slow down in a more controlled manner – avoiding the potential for a collision or some other kind of an accident. In addition to this, Lane says “traffic lights can talk to the vehicles allowing the cars to operate at an optimum speed to reduce pollution, improve journey times and this could improve the predictability of deliveries.”

CAM future

He thinks CAM will develop over the next five years. There are three developments to consider: the vehicles, the in-car technology has to be enabled to use 5G and there is a need for messages to be sent and received from the car to permit it to sensibly act and respond to them. However, he doesn’t think fully autonomous vehicles will be seen on our roads in the next five years. However, there is a need for the 5G network to expand.

For now, the backbone will still be 4G and it will take time for mobile network operators will take time to upgrade.  Lane concludes: “The 5G network has to be where the vehicles are, and where they need to use it. The advantage of Vodafone is that they are investing significantly in the West Midlands. There will need to be some relaxation of rules and laws to allow this to happen. Some things are technically possible but not legally.”

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