Can 5G increase vehicle safety?

In recent few years, wireless providers have continued investing heavily in the rollout of 5G technology that enables lightning-fast data transmission and could revolutionize a number of industries. That could include the automotive sector, because if vehicles of all types can "talk" to one another, road systems and more, it could make self-driving cars a more viable option in the next several years. The question is whether that can be done safely.

The autonomous vehicle development startup Halo, which is owned by Lyft, recently announced that it is teaming with wireless provider T-Mobile to launch a "driverless" electric car service in late 2021, according to a joint press release from the companies. The service, which will only be available in Halo's home city of Las Vegas, won't actually be driverless, but it will instead use a series of cameras, radars and ultrasonic sensors, and it will be piloted by remote operators via 5G connection.

While fully automated driving (also known as Level 5 autonomous driving) is likely years away — if it's possible at all given current technology — Halo is striving toward L3 capability, the report said. That means that vehicle operators would be able to take their hands off the wheel and disengage from the driving process in a limited way. The way in which remote drivers for its small fleet in Sin City will help the company reach that goal is by having vehicles learn from both real-world interactions with other vehicles and road conditions, and understand what the remote operators are asking it to do. The hope is with the vehicles "learning" from human operators, it will create what Halo calls a "unique feedback loop to achieve Level 3 capabilities over time."

Las Vegas will soon be home to a remote/autonomous vehicle program.Las Vegas will soon be home to a remote/autonomous vehicle program.

But is it safe?
The issue with the large amount of hype given to autonomous vehicles in recent years is that the technology really isn't feasible at this point and any attempts to create the illusion that vehicles are even close to being viable are papering over the serious technological barriers. However, 5G certainly lays the groundwork for making it more than just an illusion, according to Telecoms Tech News. As noted with the tech and sensors used by Halo's pilot program, a number of different options are available to vehicle manufacturers and AV developers including radar, lidar, cameras and AI, all of which can work in concert to one day make autonomous driving a reality.

The problem is, then, that the wide variety of technology now being used means there is a patchwork of solutions to overcoming the gaps between L1 and L2, L2 and L3, and so on. As Telecoms noted, to ensure a truly safe autonomous driving experience, vehicles need to be able to communicate with one another and infrastructure as they traverse highways and surface streets, and without standardization, there's a high likelihood that data gets lost in translation.

5G rollouts will help play a roll in overcoming these issues, because it is more reliable and has a much lower latency than 4G — which is still the norm for much of the U.S., the report said. Vehicles will need to be able to receive and interpret data at the same time as they are generating and transmitting it, and 5G will make that possible when it gets a wider rollout. Critically, it is a technology designed for use in areas where there is a high density of connections.

Growing demand
The promise of 5G-enabled "vehicle-to-everything" communication is clear, and it will be critical to making connected vehicles a reality within the next several years, according to Big Think. This is true not only because it will allow for safer travel, but also more user-friendly experiences. Just as vehicles will need to be able to talk to one another and infrastructure, those equipped with video screens and other forms of entertainment will allow users to actively stream their favorite entertainment. That, in turn, could create a "wow" factor that increases buy-in.

The more developers can do to ensure they are safely rolling out autonomous vehicle technology and educating consumers about what current and next-gen AVs can — and, vitally, cannot — do, the better off all involved are likely to be.

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