Telefónica O2 and UK Space Agency test 5G and satellite for autonomous vehicles
UK operator Telefónica O2 has joined with the UK Space Agency on a new four-year public-private sector partnership to test 5G and satellite communications for autonomous vehicles.
Project Darwin, announced by the UK government, is co-funded via the UK Space Agency’s investment in the European Space Agency’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES). It will be based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, in Oxfordshire.
Other partners are Oxford and Glasgow universities, Spanish satellite operator Hispasat, and the Darwin Innovation Group Oxford. A number of local startups will also be recruited to the project. The Darwin Innovation Group is scoping out “different elements” for the programme as part of an ARTES ‘partner study’ item with an initial UK fund of around £2 million.
The new Project Darwin will seek to combine next generation telecoms satellites and 5G services so connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) stay connected even outside of towns and cities with good mobile signals.
O2 calculates CAVs will generate 4TB of data per hour.
Derek McManus, chief operating officer at O2, said: “Project Darwin is an important piece of the connected and autonomous vehicle puzzle. The research will be vital in the creation of new transport ecosystems for the UK public and the the companies that will offer these services.
“Our approach to this project is part of our wider strategy to collaborate with British businesses, partners and start-ups to unlock the possibilities of 5G for customers and wider UK economy. 5G connectivity delivered by converged networks will also support remote and rural enterprise and provide ubiquitous communications, one of the UK Space Agency’s strategic priorities in telecoms.”
Catherine Mealing-Jones, director of growth at the UK Space Agency, said: “Autonomous vehicles require robust high-speed mobile data connections to operate effectively, so building the technology to link autonomous vehicles to telecoms satellites means that you will be able to take your car wherever you want to go, not just where there’s decent mobile signal.”
Stephan von Delft, from the University of Glasgow’s Adam Smith Business School, said: “New business models for 5G connected ecosystems will not emerge fully formed. Firms must systematically explore, test and adapt new business models as conditions change. Our research aims to support Project Darwin in this process.”
Daniela Petrovic, co-founder at the Darwin Innovation Group, said: “Our aim is that mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) developed by project DARWIN will benefit society in multiple ways: by creating new apprenticeships in this newly developing area, informing policies and regulations related to connected and autonomous vehicles, and creating a new industry vertical.”
The future of mobility is one of the ‘grand challenges’ of the UK’s government’s industrial strategy. The UK government has invested around £120 million into CAV projects since 2014, with a further £68 million coming from industry contributions.
Its industrial strategy has seen a number of related announcements in recent weeks, including the allocation of £1.4 million of funding for projects looking at battery technology for electric vehicles. Welsh firms Deregallera and Tri-Wall Europe have both received a share of the fund, to create skilled jobs across the country.
Besides, the University of Lincoln has received a share of £76 million to set up a new research centre for farming robots and technologies. The new centre will be one of 13 government backed projects to share the total fund.
Among other initiatives, the programmes will also look at how to design of environmentally-friendly offices and homes, and how engineering enzymes could break down common single-use plastics, as well as challenges with speeding up crop production.
As well, the government’s industrial strategy has seen £10 million support for a new biomanufacturing hub opened at the University of Manchester to further develop biotechnologies and drive clean growth. Greater Manchester has a stated target to be the UK’s first city-region to achieve carbon neutral living by 2038.
The new Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub will develop new technologies to transform the manufacturing processes of chemicals, using plants, algae, fungi, marine life and micro-organisms. The institute will also work alongside universities including Imperial College London, the University of Nottingham and the University College London.
The Universities of Swansea and Sheffield will host similar hubs, each also benefiting from £10 million government investment.