Paving the way for driverless vehicles with 5G

Paving the way for driverless vehicles with 5G
Speakers at the 2018 Pacific NorthWest Economic Region summit in Spokane offered opportunities to advance driverless vehicle technology, including the deployment of 5th Generation mobile networks technology. Photo: phys.org

As ongoing development of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology continues, state legislators and industry members are working on strategies to effectively integrate those vehicles with public road infrastructure. That is one of the primary objectives for the Washington’s Autonomous Vehicle Executive Committee, which met for the first time last month.

In addition to impacts on liability and insurance, policymakers and businesses might also look to 5th Generation (5G) mobile networks technology deployment as an integral aspect that plan. It’s an argument made by Verizon Business and Development Manager Joel Fisher, one of several speakers at the 2018 Pacific NorthWest Economic Region in Spokane on July 24 discussing the future of AV.

5G expansion is expected to create three million new jobs and increase the nation’s annual GDP by $500 billion. Last year, a Senate bill unsuccessfully sought to capture some of that economic activity for Washington by proposing to streamline local permitting rules and lower rates for pole access.  Right now, Washington is the 14th most connected state, with broadband coverage available to 94 percent of residents.

Currently, Verizon has conducted limited 5G trials on the East Coast, and plans to fully develop the technology in four cities by the end of the year including Los Angles, Sacramento and Houston.

“When I talk about the benefits of 5G and the revolution that is forthcoming, it’s a very real statement and it’s right around the corner,” Fisher said. “I think what we will find as we move forward is that connected and autonomous vehicles in and of themselves will necessitate a 5G deployment.”

What makes 5G ideal for AV is the improved response time compared to 4G, he added. With 4G, a driverless vehicle traveling 30 miles per hour (MPH) requires 4.6 feet distance before it responds to what it sees on the road. With 5G, it’s less than an inch.

Yet, other speakers highlighted some of the challenges that could come with requiring wireless internet to operate a driverless vehicles for people in rural communities. It was a point raised by, Idaho Department of Transportation’s freight program manager Jeff Marker.

“How does that work when there is no Wi-Fi system…how does that get incorporated into our rural communities. And the answer is, we don’t know the answer.”

He added that there are “local jurisdiction (that) simply can’t afford to have fog lines painted on the roads. If they’re required, who pays for that? How does local jurisdictions with limited resources paint those lines, maintain those lines?”

When the internet service issue was raised later during the discussion, Fisher replied, “Speaking for (the) industry…we cover about 99 percent of the landmass in America right with cell coverage. Obviously, there are dead spots. As we move forward I only see that improving, quite frankly.”

However, enthusiasts in both the public and private sector aren’t waiting around for 5G before putting AV to use. Kroger recently announced plans to test driverless car grocery deliveries, while the city of Bellevue wants to use a vanpool fleet of AVs to ease traffic congestion.

The other challenge for AV proponents is combating any luddite-like anxieties people may have about the technology.

Whether the public is ready for it is “a trick questions, because they don’t know much about this,” Steve Marshall said. He is the Transportation Technology Partnership manager for the City of Bellevue. At the Spokane summit, he compared AV to “when elevators were first invented. There were people that would not get on an elevator, they would take the stairs. When elevators became autonomous, there’d be people that wouldn’t get on them without somebody (operating them).”

“It’s an evolution,” he added. “People have got to get used to what the advantages are.”

Along with traffic congestion, AV could also reduce road accidents and trucking costs. Those possibilities are driving efforts by Bellevue-based commercial vehicle manufacturer PACCAR that include “platooning,” in which trucks can digitally connect to each other and reduce braking distance. It also can reduce fuel consumption for the rear truck by 10 percent and 4.6 percent for the front vehicle.

At the July 24 summit, Chief Technology Officer Kyle Quinn outlined further plans by the company that will create the “building blocks for fully autonomous vehicles.” That includes software that automatically causes trucks to slow down or fully stop in response to vehicle speeds ahead, along with lane-centering. By 2021, PACCAR plans to deploy driver monitoring sensors that can detect driver distraction.

“Social acceptance and economic feasibility…will drive their (AV) adoption,” Quinn said.

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