5G Should Accelerate Autonomous Communication

The emergence of 5G is expected to bring forth the exploration of new horizons to connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), as well as to vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication.

Erik Varney, managing director of telematics for industrial IoT and automotive at Verizon Business, says that convergence is the major trend that’s occurring within the new generation of vehicles – especially electric and autonomous. He said: “With the new generation of mobile technology, 5G, people might ask, when are we going to see the real adoption of autonomous vehicles, and when are we going to see those capabilities come to the regular consumer?”

“Most autonomous vehicles and technology today cost a lot of money and aren’t really worth it for the average consumer. Soon, though, I expect to see a trend toward more availability and eventual ubiquity of connectivity vehicle technology.” He adds: “Connectivity speeds are upshifting by a factor of 10, and you start to think about what you can do with that kind of bandwidth and throughput – machine learning, for instance, and things really make a big difference with autonomous driving and remote driving for that matter, that can really move the needle when it comes to autonomous technology.” So, he not only sees the next generation of solutions coming to life but also predicts “you’re going to see some really interesting things take place with the advent of these newer technologies, LiDAR and others, and bringing them down to a more reproducible range when it comes to cost”.

Inspiring innovation

Lower costs in Varney’s opinion “should lead to some technologies and capabilities that we never would’ve seen in a vehicle 10 years ago now start to become commonplace”. Part of this equation is the software-defined vehicle, allowing what he describes as the core of the vehicle – it’s software – to be upgraded in the same way people upgrade their smartphones. He adds an observation that at this year’s Super Bowl at which “every car commercial that was during the big game itself seemed to be either an electric vehicle or an autonomous vehicle”. The key point to this is that they all need connectivity and so they are going to need the capabilities that the mobile networks will provide.

Mark Doughty, president and CEO of PrePass Safety Alliance, then gives his opinion about how 5G will bring new horizons to CAVs and V2X communications: “5G and C-V2X will bring new opportunities for commercial and passenger vehicles; however, owing to the bifurcation of the 5.9 GHz Safety Spectrum, the opportunities will be limited.  It appears that traffic management, including variable speed control on highways will help to alleviate congestion. Also, V2X warnings can signal vehicles long before they reach a road hazard, to reduce speed to avoid collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians.”

So, with V2X in mind, why will 5G lead to the development of a new generation of “smart automobiles”? Doughty says 5G is up to 100 times faster than 4G and so it should help to alleviate speed and connectivity issues caused by network latency. However concerns over latency still remain, he believes, making some automakers hesitant and counters: “There are approximately 275 million vehicles on the road today in the United States. As we look to the long-term future of those vehicles eventually becoming “smart automobiles,” 5G for the first time begins to offer the bandwidth and speed necessary to support the development of future technologies.”

Smart truck development

As well as the development of smart automobiles, the development of smart trucks is anticipated. So, what role will V2X technology have their development? As heavier vehicles are potentially more dangerous, Varney says there is a need to ensure that they are safer than passenger vehicles. He explains why: “More gross weight can do more damage, not to mention whatever the supply-chain value of cargo that can be lost or destroyed. An interesting thing about freight transportation is that it can be predictable and repetitive if you’re covering the same route day after day from point to point, so automated technology makes sense there.”

Speaking about deliveries, he says the focus is often on the last mile being completely, wherever possible, autonomous. However, he stresses that the mid-mile is key. “Distribution groups can apply autonomous technology between the core distribution warehouse and regional distribution warehouses, especially along rural routes with few variables – routes that are always the same, predictable, and easy for a smart vehicle to navigate on its own or mostly on its own,” he says. Looking ahead to the future, he foresees that there will be some “very powerful capabilities and solutions coming out of the freight and smart trucking space”.

Doughty says PrePass would like to see continued development in areas that will help truckers. This includes the creation of more truck parking availability, and more connectivity with parking infrastructure to develop and assist with smarter parking options based on real-time availability.

He’d also like to see more work done on work zone safety by using V2X communication. “When trucks can connect to active work zones and temporary roadside crews with real-time data, it will provide a significant safety gain for the drivers and state personnel,” he claims.  With V2X truckers can be informed via alerts to slow down, and workers on the ground can receive similar alerts using their 5G devices to know when a commercial vehicle is approaching their location.  C-V2X and 5G can therefore be used to improve the highway safety of motorists.

Much to develop

There is, nevertheless, still much to develop. Varney concludes with his primary thought about how 5G and V2X communication needs to develop – placing the focus on the roadside unit (RSU). The trouble, he says, is that the RSUs are becoming more expensive “as more and more sensors are being deployed and more and more technologies are being deployed”. Verizon’s solution is to push the cellular V2X solution: “Where some of the communication protocols can be virtualized and moved into the edge or the vehicle itself, and the vehicle itself becomes part of that roadside unit, helping broadcast those telecommunications messages.” This includes augmenting the technology in the vehicles themselves.

So, in terms of new horizons, there is going be a need for more connected infrastructure to communicate with those vehicles. The vehicles themselves have the potential to become a powerhouse by “integrating lots of information with a powerful mobile network, edge computing, and connected infrastructure and so on for a full C-V2X ecosystem,” he explains.

Lower latency will in itself create increased data throughput and allowing data to move to the cloud. You can also move ‘compute’ to the edge and virtualize protocols to make it more affordable and shareable. He says this is because “nothing is really valuable unless everyone on the road can take advantage”. He concludes by suggesting that one of the keys to the new horizons is to find ways to make technology cheaper and mass producible in order to realize the 5G and V2X benefits and change.

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