O2, the second-largest mobile network operator in the United Kingdom, has teamed up with the Millbrook Proving Ground, McLaren Applied Technologies and Britain’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to test a 5G network that will support what they call connected and autonomous vehicles, as the maritime sector also stakes a claim for its own autonomous vessels.
Network operator O2 is part of an eight-company consortium that is collaborating on the AutoAir project that will develop smart traffic operations using real-time information on traffic flows and potential hazards.
According to an O2 statement, in trials carried out earlier this year a McLaren sports car was “able to both send and receive data at rates of up to one gigabit per second, while traveling at speeds of up to 160 miles per hour (257 kilometres per hour); and a fleet of vehicles connected to the same network was able to share UltraHD 4K video in real time.”
The AutoAir project has received £10.5 million ($13.7 million) in funding from the government, DCMS and private investment. The British government has allocated £6.8 billion for digital infrastructure, including 5G.
Brendan O’Reilly, chief technology officer of O2, said, “5G will play a key role in how our country develops over the next few years. If implemented properly, 5G has the potential to drive economic growth, create jobs and enable a new host of technologies – including self-driving vehicles.”
The AutoAir project seeks to develop a neutral host network using 100,000 small cell units connected to fiber along Britain’s 16,000 kilometres (about 9,950 miles) of motorways and a further 16,000 kilometres of railway track.
The system is operated by a mesh of Passive Optical LAN stations at the roadside or alongside a rail track that are connected by fiber and that link to a vehicle or mobile device via the 5G network. AutoAir contends that this is a cost-effective way to connect trains and vehicles along poorly covered transport corridors.
The speed of the 5G network, known as low latency, will allow autonomous vehicles to react to hazards and direct vehicles even at high speeds.
This system is not suitable for ocean-going vessels, but connections for vessels could be made via satellite, at a significantly higher cost.
Lloyd’s Register and its partners, Mitsui & Co and ST Engineering and Electronics will attempt to limit the extra costs for shipping through the development of an autonomous navigation system that can be retrofitted to existing vessels.
The three companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding in early April that creates the world’s largest ocean-going autonomous vessel programme, according to the partnership. The partnership will be funded by Singapore’s Maritime Port Authority.
Following the creation of the partnership the programme will collaborate on the design of the system to prepare it for installation onboard a vessel.
“The ship will continue to be operated by a manned crew as the system is developed, matures and builds use cases from making navigation decisions across the oceans based on its situational awareness technology. The experienced, trained and qualified crew will continue to navigate the vessel while the system gathers data and proves its capability,” said Andy McKeran, Lloyd’s Register’s Commercial Director of Marine & Offshore.
McKeran added that the vessel will sail under the flag of Singapore and will comply with the conventions enforced by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore as a manned vessel. However, he said that “The project will provide new insights into suitable methodology for the future for how to regulate autonomous navigation systems at sea.”