The road to autonomous transportation

How connectivity will make autonomous transportation scalable, efficient and sustainable

A woman relaxes in a driverless car while graphics show the driving specifications, such as weather and speed, showing the potential future of autonomous transportation
Johannes Schygge introduces the article: 'The road to autonomous transportation' thumbnail

Autonomous vehicles today come equipped with cutting-edge technology such as radars, lidars, cameras and advanced computational capabilities. While they can replicate human driving behavior without cellular connectivity, incorporating advanced connectivity into the transport ecosystem will be key to unlocking a fully autonomous future.

Let’s imagine what a fully connected, electrified and autonomous transportation ecosystem could look like. Vehicles will have access to massive amounts of real-time traffic data and constantly updated HD maps, also called digital road twins. These insights will increase the awareness of hazards and changing weather conditions. Data insights will be integrated with traffic management systems, resulting in safe, efficient and sustainable transportation of goods and people.

This ecosystem will build on the enhanced network capabilities of 5G, even as it transitions seamlessly to future generations of mobile networks.

If this positive vision is the future, then what will the journey toward it look like?

A spherical bird’s-eye view of a city made up of many winding roads shows the future of driverless transportation, using connected lines to illustrate how autonomous vehicles such as cars and trucks will all be part of one ecosystem

“The speed of connectivity between your car, the road network and other cars is going to be critical to autonomous driving.”

James Baggott,
Editor in Chief,

What is happening today?

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has categorized vehicle automation into six levels. Most vehicles fall between the range of Level 0, where there is no automation, and Level 2, where there are a few autonomous driving features but the driver must always be ready to take control.

However, some vehicle manufacturers are now introducing Level 3 vehicles in Europe and the US, which can control certain driving tasks in specific locations and conditions, even as the driver must remain prepared to assume control if the conditions alter.

Today, many Level 2 and Level 3 vehicles come equipped with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that rely on onboard sensors such as cameras, lidars and radars, which are important stepping stones on the path to full automation.

A growing number of companies are investigating Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles. Such vehicles have no need for human intervention as long as they stay within a certain area, known as the Operational Design Domain (ODD) of the autonomous driving system of the vehicle.

To deploy Level 4 and 5 vehicles at scale, connectivity will be crucial. One reason for this is that many authorities now mandate that autonomous vehicles operating on public roads are always connected to an external supervisor. An autonomous vehicle unable to handle a situation with sufficient confidence could request human intervention to receive guidance for its next course of action. In some jurisdictions the remote supervisor might be liable while the action is executed and therefore needs to closely monitor it through video streams and other means.

Current Level 4 autonomous vehicles are not yet permitted to drive at high speeds, as they are designed for the worst-case situations of their sensor range. Advanced connectivity could address the current limitations by connecting both offboard and onboard sensors so they can complement each other in difficult situations. 5G and future 6G networks will have a crucial role to play as autonomous driving becomes more widely accepted.

Explore the different types of ADAS/autonomous technology used in vehicles below:


ADAS and autonomous technologies are currently available in many cars on the road today and are becoming more prevalent to enhance the driving experience and reduce the risks caused by human error.

A digital car dashboard from the point of view of a driver, looking out onto the road ahead at sunset with driverless transportation

In 2021, Ericsson, in partnership with Volvo, carried out the first cross-border 5G network vehicular handover. This proved that seamless service continuity on 5G networks can be guaranteed across borders. This will be crucial to ensuring the autonomous vehicle ecosystem of the future can scale. The trial used 5G to demonstrate that HD maps could be constantly updated with real-time data. With this, connected cars can behave like smart clusters throughout their entire journeys, working in unison and staying in constant communication.

Einride and the future of autonomous trucks

In 2019, Sweden-based freight mobility company, Einride, was the first company in the world to deploy a fully electric, autonomous vehicle on a public road. Since then, the company has partnered with Ericsson to ensure its driverless trucks have high-performing 5G connectivity for seamless operations. In 2022, it was the first company to receive approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a cabless vehicle to operate on public roads in the US.

Einride vehicles utilize a sensor suite of radars, lidars and cameras to navigate autonomously. The cabless design of the vehicles allows for lower weight and better aerodynamics and, with remote oversight, negates the need for an onboard safety driver.

One of Einride’s autonomous vehicles is parked in a warehouse, as a male employee walks towards it

Image shared courtesy of Einride

Each of Einride’s autonomous electric transport (AET) systems are equipped with dual 5G modems for cellular connectivity and include the ability to connect to a private local network. By first launching in environments with lower complexity, Einride shortens the time to commercial rollout for customers.

Einride’s AET systems are connected to a remote operator who can monitor the vehicle and assist the autonomous driving system on-demand. The remote operator is a new career path that offers drivers a workplace with no noise and vibration, and Einride hopes this role will also improve the work-life balance for truck drivers, or 'operators'. As operations scale, operators will be able to monitor multiple vehicles at once.

Tiffany Heathcott, a veteran trucker from Texas, was sometimes on the road for a week straight until Einride invited her to become an Einride Remote Operator.

"I can't wait for everything that it's going to give to us as truck drivers. I am going to see my family more, my grandchildren more. What more can I ask for?"

“Einride is transforming an analog and fossil-fuel-dependent sector into a digital, connected and electrified one. By pairing autonomous and electric technology, we are able to maximize sustainability and efficiency.

Ellen Kugelberg
Chief Product Officer, Einride

Driverless transportation in the next five years

Vehicles already produce massive amounts of data and act as connected computers. In the medium term, these trends will only increase with higher reliability and the ability to store and process even greater amounts of data. Autonomous vehicle providers will need to constantly deploy advanced autonomous capabilities across their fleets and maintain their software using over-the-air updates. Large volumes of software will need to be deployed at a reasonable cost in order to keep software-defined vehicles on the road, which will place significant requirements on the network.

On top of keeping the software in shape, humans will still be a crucial component of tomorrow’s transportation ecosystem – from overseeing operations of all active vehicles to the first- and last-mile loading/unloading responsibilities in the case of commercial vehicles.

To show a potential autonomous transportation scenario, a convoy of connected trucks drive along a road, with arrow graphics to show them communicating

Scania, a major Swedish manufacturer of heavy commercial vehicles, is a global frontrunner in the shift toward sustainable heavy transport systems. In the future, Scania’s heavy commercial transportation fleet will be able to carry out assignments of all distances while maintaining steady speeds that optimize the vehicle’s energy consumption.

They will also be able to operate during low traffic periods without requiring regular rest periods, leading to increased efficiency and mitigating the shortage of human drivers for commercial vehicles. Today, Scania is already testing autonomous technology to transport commercial goods in regular traffic conditions over 300 km between logistics hubs in Sweden.

“The transportation world will soon be ubiquitously connected, electrified, and autonomous.”

Tony Sandberg
Head of Scania Pilot Partner, Scania Group

Decarbonizing industries with connectivity & 5G

What do commuters want?

Commuters want services that enhance safety and reduce stress levels, as well as simply being able to commute seamlessly from A to B. According to the Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab study, “Augmenting the daily commute”, 3 in 5 respondents were highly interested in alerts relating to the detection of a distracted driver.

What percentage of respondents think automation will revolutionise the commute by 2030?

According to the study, commuters also say that ADAS features help reduce stress during and after their journeys thanks to the additional level of protection they felt from these safety features. The majority of respondents also showed high interest in information regarding hazards beyond their horizon. This information is relevant for all commuters who benefit from safer roads, from drivers and passengers to pedestrians.

Responsible technology development

To meet the demands of autonomous vehicles, the transport and logistics ecosystem will need adaptable policies and legislative processes that can keep pace with technological developments. A priority is to address the issue of net neutrality (where providers treat all data on the network equally) and to ensure that net neutrality rules don’t hinder the way services of different degrees of criticality and network performance requirements are deployed.

Ericsson has been working with several global bodies, not just in terms of the Core and Radio Access Network (RAN) within 3GPP, but also toward other industry vertices in groups such as the 5GAA (5G Automotive Association), Automotive Edge Computing Consortium (AECC) and Connected, Cooperative & Automated Mobility (CCAM) Association. In these groups, as well as others, Ericsson is pushing for global service interoperability and cooperating with vehicle OEMs, communications service providers and public road authority representatives to understand where and how to take the automotive sector towards the next mobile generation.

The 2030 vision and Ericsson’s role

ADAS and autonomous transportation will help make transportation safer and more efficient, as well as help minimize energy usage and reduce traffic congestion.

Looking wider, a rise in autonomous vehicles also has the potential to further encourage vehicle sharing, which would decrease the number of vehicles on the roads or in parking lots. Autonomous public road transportation could potentially enlarge the areas around urban centers where people can live without owning a car, further reducing congestion as well as improving transport for those already living in rural areas.

Electrification, as well as other carbonless technologies, is crucial to reducing transportation emissions. However, the path forward will require all vehicles to be used for as long as possible, which could include adapting vehicles into electric and hybrid vehicles and equipping these with autonomous driving capabilities. Software-defined vehicles will also depend on connectivity for software updates, which will prolong their lifecycles.

Additionally, the transportation infrastructure will need to support electric vehicle uptake with accessible charging stations, as well as ways to manage energy demand. In this context, connectivity will be important for efficient routing and charging optimization, as well as ensuring battery-related software is always up to date.

A man stands next to his electric car at a charging station, to show how electrification will be part of the future of autonomous vehicles

What needs to happen to reach this future?

As we progress toward a fully connected and autonomous transportation ecosystem, all the major players have a role to play both in the short and long term. Regulators will need to facilitate interoperability in the short term by defining frameworks and requirements with a technology-neutral approach, whilst the market establishes the best solution. Service providers will need to ensure coverage, and OEMs will need to enable scalable, IoT-based solutions. It will be a real technological team effort.

Then, looking farther into the future, networks will start to integrate connectivity with real-time computing and storage at the edge of the network. This integration is known as the Network Compute Fabric. The network will act not only as a connector but also as a controller of physical systems, ranging from simple to complex applications. In the case of road vehicles, however, control will need to stay within the vehicle for the foreseeable future.

As we reach 2030 and beyond, the physical world will also start to combine with the digital one. External sensors in the environment will be able to detect objects and people and recreate them as digital twins to work with artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Using the digital twins, the AI systems will be able to better predict the speed and direction of people in the environment and whether a collision might occur. Not only would this give the autonomous vehicle an improved awareness of its surroundings, but it could also optimize routes even more efficiently.

In this world, 5G connectivity will become a baseline requirement. Then it’s only a matter of time before we begin fully exploring what 6G will mean for leveling up the connected driving industry.

A digital blueprint of a driverless car illustrates the future potential of autonomous transportation

How do you see autonomous transportation transforming society in 2030 and beyond?


With additional thanks to:
Rajat Kumar Kochhar, Friedhelm Ramme, Nina Lövehagen, Pietro Lungaro, Michael Björn, Stefano Sorrentino

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