Hybrid Connectivity the Way forward for Driverless Cars, Says Ericsson

Connectivity is necessary but not a precondition for autonomous driving, Ericsson’s Juergen Daunis tells Louis Bedigian.

The questions surrounding connectivity continue to linger as the auto industry tries to determine its impact on self-driving vehicles, particularly in difficult or remote regions. If a car requires a 5G connection, what will happen when that connection is no longer available? The answer could be a mix of restrictions in some places and technological workarounds in others, creating a hodgepodge of functionalities that are location dependent.

“I don’t think 5G is a precondition for autonomous driving,” said Juergen Daunis, vice-president of global sales for connected vehicles at Ericsson. “But I think autonomous driving will be rolled out in a regional dimension in a city or roadway. It’s not like seatbelts where you have them everywhere. It’s more, you will have the functions of the car but the advanced value will come in a regional rollout perspective.”

Daunis speculated that features could be optimized to particular regions that offer connectivity to maximize a vehicle’s automated capabilities. He suspects that AV features would be restricted if a car is not connected. At the same time, predictive technology may be able to assist in scenarios where connectivity is simply not available. This would allow a vehicle to determine the network capability of its destination ahead of its arrival. Daunis said it also might be possible for a vehicle to pre-cache certain AV content to prepare for environments where connectivity is weak or nonexistent. Alternatively, the vehicle could alert the driver well in advance so that he or she can take over when necessary.

As far as deploying 5G in more difficult environments, Daunis said this is a commercial, not a technological, issue. He said there are mines and tunnels that have already added antennas for a cellular connection. “There is no technical reason why you should not have connectivity even underground,” Daunis explained. “It’s a commercial question: are the carriers willing to make the investment to build that, and is the consumer willing to pay for this kind of service?”

A hybrid approach

In addition to 5G, the auto industry is also looking at how other connectivity solutions might assist the cars of tomorrow. Daunis is among those who believe there could be a hybrid approach that relies on more than one technology for the best functionality. “There might be use cases where Wi-Fi or DSRC are okay or sufficient but there are a lot of problems also related to that, such as interference,” said Daunis. “Also the amount of vehicles or devices you can have in one cell and the infrastructure that you need to build along the roadside to support DSRC/Wi-Fi – I think in the US it’s a million miles that you would need to equip just from the highways. Who would fund that? Who would operate that?”

Whether it’s 5G, DSRC or something else entirely, connectivity will be necessary in some situations. Case in point: Daunis wonders how a consumer will call for a self-driving car if it is not connected. “If you’re taking away the driver, there’s no one with a mobile phone,” he said. “Without connectivity the car will not find you and you will not find the car and the car would not be available in the backend system if it is not connected. Therefore, without connectivity, the whole use case of an autonomous mobility service doesn’t make sense.”

In many cases, connected cars will require a smarter, more connected infrastructure. This opens up a world of additional challenges, including the idea that automakers, automakers and local governments will have to work together in ways they never have before. Looking a few steps ahead, Daunis expressed concern about the safety of connectivity once it has been deployed. He said the authenticity of a signal is very important, particularly if that signal is instructing the car to take a particular action.

“We have to find ways to open our systems in a secure way to allow them to communicate with each other,” said Daunis. “Today most of the parties don’t cooperate. To support an end-to-end autonomous driving use case in a meaningful manner, we have to go beyond that and bring all these parties together to cooperate who have never cooperated in the past.”

Nothing is free

Connectivity has allowed tech giants like Google to offer a whole host of free services in exchange for data. There has been some speculation that connectivity and autonomy could do the same for mobility, offering free rides to those who are willing to share personal information. It’s an interesting concept but it may not be worth the hidden price.

“I think the trade-off is, companies like Google or Amazon, they will have to give you a free ride,” said Daunis. “In return they will drive you to their shops and they will monetize on their ecosystem. Then mobility of the car is the missing link to close the loop, to completely controlling your life. If we agree to that, if we buy in, yes, they will do it. Do we want that? I don’t want that.”

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