Autonomous cars

While not yet autonomous, the car of today is already connected. Many manufacturers now offer models featuring a SIM card slot to connect the car and its occupants to Internet. In addition, from 2018 onwards, all new cars will have to be equipped with eCall emergency call technology as standard. In the event of an accident, eCall informs the emergency services automatically, and can also be triggered manually. In addition to sensors and smart communication systems, the electric car of tomorrow will also use spectrum for wireless power transmission (WPT) applications to recharge batteries, an issue that will be discussed at the WRC-19.
Over the next decade, private cars will offer considerably more than this kind of assistance to drivers. Several key players are already looking ahead to milestones to the driverless car. Three phases are envisaged, for example:

  • the first phase, already in progress, consists of vehicles that offer the driver “safety-net” features;
  • a second phase, around 2020, will see the increasingly common use of vehicles fitted with cameras, sensors and radars, capable of operating autonomously but predicated on the constant presence of a driver able to intervene in complex situations;
  • in a third phase, vehicles will dispense with all human intervention. They will not feature a driver cockpit and will manage the hazards of the road unassisted.

Leading motor manufacturers and suppliers of connectivity systems have spent several years gearing up for these developments, which will depend on increasing access to spectrum. In many ways, these developments bear similarities to the Internet of Things, but the often critical nature of their operation puts them in a specific category.

Driverless cars require spectrum resources for two categories of use: one to perceive their environment via sensors, and the other to communicate with their environment via cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS). Sensors relying on radio spectrum are essentially radars operating in the 76-81 GHz bands. The band has been harmonised in Europe for the past 10 years, in consultation with French motor manufacturers, and is in the process of global harmonisation following a favourable decision at WRC-15. C-ITS will enable vehicles to communicate with one another (vehicle-to-vehicle communications, V2V), but also with the infrastructure provided by the operator of the road they are on, with road signs and even with pedestrians.
Traditional players in the transport sector (Renault, PSA or Volvo, for example) and new entrants (such as Google) are offering cooperative systems and driver assistance solutions, and are also developing autonomous vehicles, i.e. vehicles capable of travelling without a driver. The communications requirements of smart vehicles are dictated both by critical safety-related applications (communication between two vehicles to avoid collisions, for example, or platooning) and by others that are less critical (transmitting information to drivers on traffic conditions, for example, the state of the road surface, or road works ahead).
National, European and international authorities are supporting these developments. The European Commission, for example, has set up the C-ITS Platform, a cooperative framework including national authorities, relevant C-ITS stakeholders and the Commission, with a view to creating a shared vision (recommendations or operational roadmap) on the deployment of interoperable C-ITS. A number of C-ITS pilot projects are also under way at the European level.

Initially, according to C-ITS Platform recommendations, the aim will be to deploy driver information services, particularly as regards traffic or road conditions (traffic jams, road works, stationary vehicles, presence of emergency vehicles, or weather conditions), on road signs (speed limits) and possibly on other subjects such as parking availability, navigation around a city centre or over the last kilometre of the journey. Some of these functions are already available.
The issues facing ITS range from technical (access to spectrum or connectivity) to legal (liability in the event of an accident involving a connected, semi-autonomous or autonomous vehicle, protection of privacy), economic (economies of scale in the deployment of C-ITS), political (coordinating the actions of the various stakeholders, public and private, encouraging investment to accelerate the rate of deployment and improve road safety, establishing legal frameworks for truly autonomous vehicles and the use of personal data) and even geopolitical (the role of Europe and its industries in these developments).
Spectrum resources for ITS have been identified in the 5.9 GHz and 63 GHz bands. Which technology motor manufacturers will adopt for ITS, either G5 or LTE-V2X, is currently still a matter for debate.
Finally, 5G also seems well suited to the needs of the driverless car and connected car, given its ability to ensure, in certain environments, latency as low as 1 m/s, compatible with the rapid response times required for a vehicle moving at speed.

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