5G Powering autonomous vehicles: Automotive industry case study

It used to be a common meme to compare the mind-boggling progress of computer technology with the relatively slow and stable world of car makers. But as mobile ICTs have made the leap across industry boundaries, that’s all beginning to change. Now, the automotive industry is on a transformation path, rapidly transitioning from driver-assisted systems to fully autonomous functions, which will eventually remove the “driver in the loop” paradigm. Autonomous vehicles are expected to make road transport safer, sustainable, and more cost-effective, while at the same time expanding its use.

A major enabler of auto industry transformation will be 5G mobile networks, which will be key to providing connectivity services for both vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to off-board software (vehicle to infrastructure, or V2I) communications. The next generation of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) will combine both types of communications so that vehicles can operate autonomously and be controlled and monitored from cloud-hosted software. Such systems may involve remote management of a fleet of vehicles, where a remote human operator or an automated system is aware of the position and status of all vehicles in the fleet and of their missions.

For example, a bus management system may schedule buses to dynamically pick up and drop off passengers on a route. The system uses a combination of historic and current data to track passenger demand. In another example, a truck management system may schedule trucks to move together on a section of highway in a platoon with a short distance between vehicles, which saves fuel due by eliminating much of the aerodynamic drag on vehicles trailing the leading vehicle.

These sorts of developments have huge implications, so we’re really excited to be working with Scania – a global automotive manufacturer of buses and trucks – and as part of the Integrated Transport Research Lab (ITRL) activity, on a testbed to explore opportunities of improving urban logistics, both in terms of people transportation and freight.

We’ve deployed the test bed in two locations in Sweden: Scania’s premises in Södertalje and here in Kista, a suburb of Stockholm. We have placed two cutting-edge Ericsson radio base stations in both locations with backhaul interface toward one of the latest versions of our Evolved Packet Core (EPC) network. Over the coming years, the equipment will be upgraded with 5G components as they become available.

Scania will supply a fleet of autonomous vehicles, starting with an autonomous bus in 2016, which uses the cellular infrastructure to communicate with a remote control system hosted in a cloud.

In addition to cutting-edge radio access and a range of intelligent network functionality, Ericsson also provides a vehicle scheduling service for picking up passengers or goods along a route, and this is set to be exploited in the use cases developed within the partnership. The scheduler considers not only the location and availability of vehicles, but also uses contextual data, such as information from the roadside sensors that can detect accidents, various road conditions, traffic density, and other issues, as well as data from mobile phones to provide more informed scheduling services.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of rigid mass transit schedules and routes, so imagine how much more efficient and pleasant bus transport can be when the buses are able to respond to changing local circumstances.

The testbed will be used as a platform to jointly develop a set of use cases to demonstrate how a combination of 5G connectivity and autonomous vehicles can bring a whole range of new advantages to urban transportation.

An initial set of use cases will focus on improving bus transport services, with the following benefits for actors involved:

  • Bus operators will benefit from autonomous vehicles not requiring drivers. Instead, buses will be managed from a command and control center. A human operator will have only minimum involvement, taking over driving of autonomous buses remotely, if they end up in an unexpected or demanding situation.
  • Passengers will benefit from shorter waiting times, better service awareness, and reduced travel time.
  • Network vendors will benefit from expanded use of their cellular networks beyond traditional telecom customers to automotive OEMs.
  • Automotive OEMs will benefit from new features added to their existing product offering, making their value proposition more compelling to their prospective customers (in the longer-term, these OEMs may also benefit from “as-a-service” subscription-based business models).

We have created a first version of the testbed and are currently in the process of testing the quality of the end-to-end network connection (from vehicles to the cloud and back). In the long term, and as we begin to experiment with bus transport use-cases, we expect to better understand new types of requirements that autonomous vehicle support applications put on 5G networks (such as latency, throughput, and various modes of operation).

In addition to network-level research, Scania and Ericsson will jointly explore new opportunities on developing software for intelligent management of bus fleets in urban environments, that remove driving costs while improving the service experience for passengers. So stay tuned – we hope to bring you more reports on the progress of this exciting work.

This guest post is a team effort, with contributions from Ericsson's Athanasios Karapantelakis, Keven Wang, Konstantinos Vandikas, Leonid Mokrushin, and Nicolas Schrammar.

Scania-supplied Connected Autonomous Vehicle image used with permission.

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