Space lab aims at driverless cars

October 05, 2020 //By Nick Flaherty
Space lab aims at driverless cars
The Darwin Lab set up by O2 in the UK will test 5G and satellite links to driverless cars

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


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