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The connected car and autonomous driving: current trends and future predictions

Imagine your morning commute. Imagine your car informs you that your 9 o’clock meeting has been cancelled. It then warns you of a traffic jam just ahead. The vehicle assistant immediately suggests an alternative route, which you take. Your vehicle then asks if you want to stop at the nearby fuel station on this chosen route as you are running low. It asks your preference - the closest or the cheapest fuel station? On the way, the car is forewarned when a traffic light is about to go red, and when pedestrians step onto the road ahead your car automatically slows down.

This may sound like a far off vision but in reality the technology for connected cars and autonomous driving is just around the corner.

What is currently available?

Currently several OEMs and software providers are working on using data analytics, network security and telematics to ‘humanize’ the driving experience. Toyota has collaborated with Microsoft to analyse traffic patterns, connect drivers with security and information services in their homes, and track individual driver habits to assist insurance companies with calculating claims. This type of data can also be used to potentially lower premiums for cautious drivers and boost driver safety.

Other areas of progress in the connected car space entail the inclusion of concierge services and emergency call buttons within vehicles. Drivers and passengers of connected Audi cars in Europe also enjoy both in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and access to infotainment services such as news, music streaming, weather and travel information apps. Instead of connecting your smartphone to the car, these apps allow the vehicle to behave as your smartphone. Cubic Telecom powers the connectivity for all these features. Working with tier 1 mobile operator partners, whom provide Cubic with LTE and 3G fall-back wholesale RAN access, Cubic has successfully deployed the solution seamlessly across 13 European countries with the expansion road-map for rest of Europe, Middle East, Americas and APAC underway.

As we start to see connectivity trickle through to the mainstream market, where does that leave autonomous driving?

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The road to autonomy

Bringing your morning commute scenario to life, a number of companies forged partnerships earlier this year to demonstrate how autonomous driving would work in practice. Microsoft, Cubic Telecom, NXP Semiconductors, IAV, Esri, and Swiss Re demonstrated their collective vision of safe and secure end-to-end mobility through a highly automated driving demonstration at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. The cross-industry collaboration on this project reflects how cooperation is needed in order for the autonomous vehicle vision to become a reality.

Participants in the autonomous vehicle demonstration had the opportunity to take a test drive around the Las Vegas strip in a Volkswagen Golf Estate. Personal assistant software was integrated into the vehicle to allow the driver schedule meetings, hear important emails, and book restaurants. Analytics and data were used from the vehicle’s surroundings to improve safety by anticipating and mitigating potential vehicle and pedestrian accidents. Participants saw how cars securely “talk” to other cars and how they monitor what is happening in their surroundings to improve safety.

What will the future bring?

This demonstration was merely a glimpse of what is to come. In future, driver behaviour recognition will become more of a mainstream feature in new vehicles as cloud-based computing technologies become incorporated with smart sensors. Such trends are starting to filter through to high-end vehicles in the rental car industry whereby cars can monitor driver vitals and eye movement to detect if they are falling asleep. The car reacts accordingly. Similarly, if the driver’s heart rate increases the car will automatically slow down, avoiding collision.

Autonomous cars rely on Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) technologies to function. The V2I concept puts infrastructure such as traffic lights and speed ramps in the coordination role, feeding information to vehicles automatically commanding speed or behaviour adjustment. Safety warnings and traffic information can also be shared via vehicular communications networks using short-range communications devices (DSRC). DSRC works in 5.9 GHz band with bandwidth of 75 MHz and approximate range of 1000 m.

Another prominent feature of autonomous vehicles is V2V technology. V2V allows vehicles interact with one another by exchanging information such as each car’s position and speed. This seeks to reduce accidents and improve driver safety. In its current form, cars interact with others of the same brand using DSRC. It will be important to enable this communication across various car brands in future so that the technology becomes more practical.

Vehicles can either use DSRC or communicate via the cellular network in V2V. The cellular network would need to progress towards 5G for this advanced system to operate effectively, and many have commented that to maximise the performance of V2V a combination of short-range and 5G cellular communications should be adopted. The communication technology is based on Wireless LAN. A frequency spectrum in the 5.9-GHz range.

Barry Napier, CEO of Cubic Telecom comments that “We believe 5G mobile networks will have the capabilities to compete with DSRC (in terms of security, latency, etc.). There is certainly a case that some applications will make more sense for DSRC and others for 5G. However we believe 5G will enable a broader range of communications for vehicles - high end services including video conferencing, music and video - that passengers want. And because 5G uses the existing infrastructure our partner mobile operators would only have minimal upgrades.”

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