Spark tests connected driverless car in New Zealand
The trial, which used Spark’s pre-commercial 5G network, was carried in partnership with local company Ohmio Automation
New Zealand carrier Spark, in collaboration with compatriot firm Ohmio Auromation kicked off a test of a 5G-connected driverless car in Auckland, the telco said in a statement.
The test is being carried out in a controlled area at Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct, using Spark’s pre-commercial 5G network available as part of its 5G Innovation Lab.
Spark launched its Innovation Lab in November 2018 to showcase 5G technology to New Zealand businesses and help local businesses test the technical capabilities of 5G.
The 5G-connected driverless car was developed by Ohmio, a company which has been trialling autonomous vehicles at Christchurch Airport. Since these trials, the car has been upgraded with new technology to ensure that it integrates with Spark’s 5G test network.
Mahmood Hikmet, Ohmio’s head of research and development said that the company believes Spark’s testing is “only the second of its type in the world. This test has demonstrated some of the exciting opportunities 5G will enable for our autonomous car technology.”
“A 5G network can be up to 100 times faster than 4G, which unlocks the true potential for autonomous driving, as messages need to be transmitted and decisions made in real-time,” he added. “A significant drop in latency – or the reaction time when one device talks to another – will give cars human-like reflexes and opens up multiple possibilities for connected infrastructure and a smart city ecosystem.”
Spark highlighted that the 5G-connected car carries up to four people. While the vehicle is capable of driving itself at up to 25 kmph, the trial will cap the vehicles’ top speed at 7 kmph during the pre-programmed test drive loop which lasts approximately seven minutes.
Ohmio said it plans to launch more driverless cars in more closed facilities across New Zealand, including airports, university campuses, retirement villages and hospitals.
Ohmio also plans to gain on-road certification and look for opportunities to use the cars on public streets alongside regular vehicles. One example of this is a “First and Last Mile Solution” to carry people short distances and provide a connection to or from transport hubs, reducing the need for park-and-rides.
Colin Brown, Spark’s lead for network evolution said that the partnership with Ohmio “demonstrates the potential of 5G, which goes far beyond the speed of mobile phones and wireless broadband connections.
“Many industries and businesses in New Zealand will have their own ideas on what their transformative technology could be enabled by 5G. We want to encourage businesses to begin thinking about their own ‘driverless car’ technology, and how they can prepare for the future of 5G.”
Spark’s preparation and testing for the 5G network started in March last year with a 5G mobile speed test in Auckland and Wellington. In Auckland, Spark achieved speeds of up to 18 Gbps.
The government of New Zealand recently confirmed that the first auction of 5G spectrum will be held early in 2020. Regulators also confirmed that the first frequencies to be awarded will be in the 3.5 GHz band.
“We are on track and keeping pace with other countries: with the spectrum being progressively allocated, companies can start rolling out 5G from 2020,” said Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Kris Faafoi.
National spectrum rights in the 3.5 GHz band will be available to use from November 2022 when the existing rights to this spectrum expire, although an operator might be able to use its rights earlier with the agreement of the existing rights holder, the minister said.