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Space lab aims at driverless cars

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The UK’s Space Agency has backed a laboratory from mobile phone operator O2 looking at how 5G and satellite links could be used for driverless cars.

5G is of interest for autonomous vehicle links as the latency is cut from 20ms for 4G to under 1ms. However wide area links are needed for coverage outside of 5G networks, which is where the satellite links come in. This links up with the UK’s rescue of the OneWeb low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation that is intended to provide broadband links, although with higher latency than 1ms.

The lab will be based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire which is already the focus of space technology development with the European Space Agency and will also host the recent £10m purchase of a quantum computer from Rigetti Computing.

“We are excited to continue working on 5G projects with our partners, especially the Darwin SatCom Lab located on the Harwell Campus, which is also home to the ESA’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications,” said Antonio Franchi, 5G Strategic Programme Manager at the European Space Agency. “The Lab, showcasing the integration of 5G and satellite communications for CAVs, is a great example of how next-gen 5G networks will enable new applications and services thanks to their ubiquity, security and resilience.”

The lab will invite businesses to test driverless cars and use 5G and satellite technology to trial ways of keeping vehicles connected.

“The UK’s space sector is applying pioneering technologies such as satellite and 5G to essential products and services that will help to transform our everyday lives,” said UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway. “[The] driverless car lab will enable our most innovative businesses to test these technologies and bring us another step closer to putting self-driving vehicles safely on our roads.”

O2 has converted two Renault TWIZY electric cars with LIDAR sensors which allow them to be controlled from the Lab and driven around the Campus.

Using 5G equipment provided by Nokia and geosynchronous communications satellites (GEOs) provided by Spanish satellite operator Hispasat O2’s team can remotely track the status of each TWIZY, including their position, movement and speed.

“The Darwin SatCom Lab represents a valuable opportunity for companies to develop 5G applications for connected vehicles that will work on the most appropriate platform in terms of technical requirements and cost efficiency. Connected and autonomous vehicles represent a key segment in the 5G ecosystem – and satellites are the perfect solution to enable connectivity, even in remote areas,” said Inés Sanz, Head of Customer Engineering at Hispasat.

The lab forms part of Project Darwin,– a four-year programme backed by the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency. First announced in June 2019, this brings together Oxford and Glasgow Universities, Hispasat, start-ups specialising in self-driving mobility solutions and Darwin Innovation Group Oxford, in order to test new technologies and end-to-end connectivity solutions with 5G and satellite communications.

darwin.eaglelab.net/

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