5G self-driving cars are not with us yet — but if professional predictions are accurate, it will not be too long before they start to make an appearance on public highways in Australia and across the world. Experts believe that 5G networks will provide the low latency, highspeed connectivity that autonomous vehicles require to collect, transfer and process large volumes of data as they make their way to destinations. This is integral to helping them avoid other road users and hazards along the way. H2 How l
According to commercial research specialists Gartner, there will be more than 600,000 autonomous vehicles on public roads across the globe by 2025. At the time of writing, the only autonomous cars to be found in Australia are test vehicles, although advanced driverassistance systems (ADAS) can already be found in many vehicles for sale in the country.
ADAS, which provides motorists with assistance when parking and with features such as adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance, can be thought of as a bridge between fully manual and fully autonomous cars. Some of the technology employed by these systems will also be used in autonomous vehicles, albeit in a more sophisticated format. But what still needs to happen before we can buy these vehicles, and is 5G really the missing piece to the puzzle?
Representatives from a leading tech firm in Finland, a UK mapping agency and many other industry insiders have expressed that they believe 5G is the right networking solution for autonomous vehicles in the future.
In ideal conditions, humans take around 2 milliseconds to make a decision when faced with a hazard on the road. Autonomous vehicles need to be able to match or surpass this performance if they are to be accepted – not just by governments but also by the general public. 5G networks have achieved this low level of delay in testing conditions, and with the help of edge computing, they are expected to deliver in real-world situations.
5G offers a number of performance improvements that make it an exciting candidate for providing the connectivity that self-driving cars need to operate safely on public roads in Australia and other countries.
Latency is the amount of time it takes for data to travel from one point to another in a network, in this case, from computers to an autonomous vehicle, via a mobile connection. The lower the latency, the faster data will reach its intended target. 5G networks offer significant latency improvements, which is why they are believed by many to be the right connectivity choice for self-driving cars.
5G provides data transfer speeds about 10 times faster than existing mobile networks, so it should easily be able to handle the large amounts of data that autonomous vehicles will need to send and receive on a daily basis. Cars that use advanced driver-assistance systems already generate around 25 GB of data every hour, and the sensors required by fully autonomous vehicles will generate beyond this. A high-speed network is therefore crucial to the viability of self-driving cars in the future.
5G has the ability to support up to one million devices per square kilometre, far in excess of anything possible before. This additional capacity will be invaluable for autonomous cars in large cities where the number of cars per square kilometre, together with mobile phones and other connected devices, will be far more than can currently be supported.
All of the features that 5G can provide will help to make it the experts’ favourite for connecting self-driving cars in the future. 5G connected cars will be able to transfer large volumes of data quickly and easily. Additionally, they will not have to deal with latency issues and will enjoy stable network connections in areas where there may be many other connected devices.
Not everybody agrees that 5G and autonomous vehicles are the only solution. Some experts argue that the necessary connectivity is already available, with Wi-Fi providing direct communication channels between vehicles. While true that Wi-Fi technology can handle short-range, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, it is not suitable for connecting autonomous cars to the cloud and city infrastructures.
Without these longer-range connections, traffic, building location and accident information is unavailable to autonomous vehicles, which, it is argued, would limit their capabilities considerably. What is needed, according to 5G proponents, is a standard communication protocol that meets all of the connectivity requirements of self-driving cars.
Another advantage that 5G has over Wi-Fi is that it may eventually make it possible to hand over control of autonomous cars to remote drivers. If an autonomous vehicle malfunctions or is unable to continue its journey due to a major accident or serious traffic congestion, and the driver or passengers are unable to drive, the ability to turn over control to a remote driver would be invaluable. In order to potentially remotely control a vehicle on the road, a very stable, low latency, high-speed connection would be required – which is exactly what 5G can provide.
We are already on the road towards fully autonomous vehicles, thanks to advanced driver-assistance systems. However, between the levels of driver assistance currently available and cars that can drive themselves without any human aid are several additional levels of autonomy. We can expect to see vehicles at each level as we make our way towards a world where self-driving, self-navigating cars are an everyday reality.
This is the level at which many vehicles currently sit. They have no automation features at all and require a driver to perform all necessary actions.
At this level, some driver assistance is available, but level one systems can only handle one task at a time, such as automatic braking in an emergency. Adaptive cruise control is an example of a level one technology that can be found in a number of cars for sale today.
Vehicles are considered to be partially automated. They have two or more automated features and can handle more than one task simultaneously. An example is a car that can steer and accelerate without driver input. Level two cars are already available from some manufacturers but this is as far as self-driving car hardware has come, at least in terms of what is available for sale right now. The Highway Driving Assist system, which can be found in some Hyundai, Kia and Genesis cars, is an example of level two automation. It is capable of steering, braking and accelerating on highways but will only function when it senses that the driver’s hands are on the steering wheel.
These vehicles can handle all driving tasks automatically but still need a driver on hand to intervene when necessary. Level three vehicles will prove to be a key stepping stone toward fully autonomous vehicles. Some manufacturers have already developed level three cars but they have not yet been approved for use on public roads.
A level four vehicle can drive by itself, without any driver assistance required, but only in certain areas. Areas that are fully mapped and provide the right conditions for such vehicles will be the first to see level four driverless cars on a regular basis. Because level four vehicles will not need the help of a human driver, they could conceivably be made without steering wheels or other manual controls, reducing their overall cost.
This is the goal that many manufacturers are striving to reach: fully autonomous vehicles that can drive by themselves, in any part of the world and in any condition. They will not need a driver at any point and will be able to tackle all terrains for which they are designed. The only human input that level five vehicles will require is the destination for every trip they make.
While it’s not possible to say with any certainty how soon these different levels of autonomous vehicles will appear on public roads in Australia, there has been significant progress in other countries around the world. So the future of the self-driving car in Australia may not be as distant as we imagine.
5G networks offer a level of connectivity these vehicles may require in order to operate safely and become more readily accessible.
One important practical consideration about 5G self-driving cars is the effect they will have on the insurance market. At the moment, the driver’s age, their driving record and the engine size of the vehicle they wish to insure are all key factors that go toward deciding how much an insurance policy will cost. In a future where cars are fully autonomous, these factors may well become irrelevant. Instead, the safety record of individual vehicle manufacturers is likely to be the main factor taken into account when premiums are calculated.
In addition to research and development activity around the design and manufacture of autonomous vehicles, major carmakers are also taking other steps to prepare for a world in which a 5G car that can drive itself is a reality.
Even as some people are still debating the pros and cons of Wi-Fi and 5G connectivity options for autonomous vehicles, manufacturers around the world are making sure they are ready to produce 5G autonomous vehicles in the near future. In the USA, Ford has made a commitment to ensure all its vehicles have 5G communications capabilities by 2022. Daimler is planning to manufacture an all-electric vehicle in China with 5G connectivity. Hyundai, the Korean automotive manufacturer, is developing 5G connected cars in partnership with a telecoms company.
Of course, rigorous testing of both networks and 5G self-driving cars that are produced in the future will be required before they become available for sale to the general public but it’s clear to see in which direction the automotive industry is currently heading. Very few people are asking if self-driving cars will become a reality, either in Australia or elsewhere. Instead, what they want to know now is when self-driving cars will become a reality.
Vodafone’s 5G Network is progressively being rolled out to selected parts of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth. 5G approved device required, with an eligible Vodafone plan, in a Vodafone 5G Coverage area to access the 5G Network. In non-5G coverage areas, you’ll automatically switch to our 4G networks. Actual speeds vary due to location & network congestion. Check coverage and for updates when 5G is coming to your area on our 5G network support page.