A testing time enabling technologies for driverless vehicles

Conversation about the future of the connected automotive industry has been accelerating at pace, and will continue to do so throughout 2018. Interest and investment has gained momentum thanks to the media, car manufacturers, data scientists, technology developers, telcos and operators, regulators, governments and chipset providers, with everyone keen to get a slice of this lucrative pie.

Business cases and monetisation opportunities are wide-ranging, from efficiencies in logistics and fleet management, to robo-taxis! Autonomous vehicles could also revolutionise search-and rescue missions, entering dangerous environments without jeopardising the safety of a driver. Scenarios could include identifying and rescuing victims from natural disasters like floods or hurricanes, or traversing unstable infrastructure following an earthquake or bombing.

However, for these use cases to become reality a number of questions must be addressed. How will a vehicle be able to prioritise critical information like safety updates and responses to the environment, whilst still processing a constant feed of data from on-board sensors? And, crucially, how can we thoroughly test driverless cars, at scale, before roll-out?

To answer these questions, the same level of resources and fervour which have been ploughed into the flashy car tech must also be invested in testing the air interface, networks and protocol to ensure the latency and reliability requirements are achieved to enable driverless vehicles. This critical communication needs to remain consistent despite the possible channel and propagation conditions.

The scale, density and complexity of testing how a network would cope with hundreds of driverless vehicles in a real-life scenario, is almost impossible. As such, we’ve been focussing our R&D efforts on virtual network testing. At Mobile World Congress 2017, Cobham Wireless demonstrated industry-first 5G testing capabilities, including an IoT proof-of-concept solution able to emulate up to one million 5G IoT devices, validating network performance in preparation for IoT connectivity. The UE simulator can support multiple simultaneous 5G air interfaces which are compatible with various wireless standards, including 3GPP’s 5G New Radio (5GNR).

Every single test scenario can be emulated, so a (virtual) city of thousands of cars can be cost-effectively and safely trialled and improved. This approach will ensure a network is able to support the latency requirements for the driverless car vision to become reality.

Network slicing – a key area of Cobham Wireless’ R&D – also marks a fundamental step on the road to commercialising driverless vehicles. Network slicing involves dividing a network into different virtual ‘slices’ to best suit the needs of a specific 5G use case. Driverless vehicles will be one use case and ‘slice’, though within this there will be additional sub-slices dedicated to different kinds of traffic. For example, the car receiving safety-critical navigational information at the same time as passengers streaming 4K videos. Network slicing will make it possible to prioritise the safety critical data over the leisure activity of streaming videos.

Allocating network resources in this way also means that essential processes and data exchanges in an autonomous vehicle wouldn’t be affected when it drives through a built-up area or a congested stretch of road (where there may be many other devices and people using data-heavy applications). Having a network which is unaffected by the latency and capacity of others will also support vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, allowing a connected car to respond to things like traffic lights, as well as communicating its position to its surrounding environment.

MWC 2018 will be the year in which smart cities and smart vehicles are at the fore. Cobham Wireless may not have all the answers to the many questions which will need to be answered before connected vehicles hit the road, however, our expertise in UE and device testing will help pave the way to this future.

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Li-Ke Dr Li-Ke Huang
Research & Technology Director, Cobham Wireless

Li-Ke leads the Technology Group and the Algorithms Group at Cobham Wireless, and is responsible for product concept and core technology innovations contributing to the company’s technological and business visions, directions and strategies, including 5G.

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