O2 and European Space Agency trial autonomous vehicle connectivity

25 June 2019

O2 connected cars

O2 and the European Space Agency has announced a collaborative programme known as Project Darwin, which aims to pave the way for next generation connectivity solutions for connected and autonomous vehicles (also known as CAVs).

The thinking behind it is that it'll test new technology and end-to-end connectivity solutions including not just 5G but satellite communications, in a bid to establish a new CAV vertical standard.

Work will be conducted based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, with staff from Oxford and Glasgow Universities working together alongside Spanish satellite operator Hispasat, Darwin Innovation Group Oxford, and start-up firms specialised in self-driving mobility solution.

The trial will begin in July 2019 starting with the high-level design and definition phase. Once key connected vehicle and vehicle-SIM platforms have been successfully explored, the project hopes to be able to showcase proof of concepts from 2020.

It's an ambitious concept with O2 already determining last year that connected vehicles will require unprecedented amounts of data, averaging about 4TB per hour, but it's clearly an important step for the future. A connectivity solution that is both effective and efficient is presumably the plan here.

Extensive Support for the Project

The UK government is also supporting the project as part of its Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges which focuses on the future of mobility.

"This new partnership between Government and industry will build on our world-leading reputation in the development and manufacture of satellites even further, to bring together two of the UK’s great strengths – automotive and space. Putting us at the forefront of the next generation of self-driving cars of tomorrow – a key ambition in our modern Industrial Strategy." said Business Secretary Greg Clark.

There's also support from the UK Space Agency which highlighted the need for embracing the technology behind autonomous vehicles, no matter the location.

"Autonomous vehicles need robust, high-speed mobile data connections to operate effectively. Building the technology to link them to telecoms satellites will allow you to take your car wherever you want to go, and not just to areas with a strong mobile signal." said Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth, UK Space Agency.

In recent times, O2 has demonstrated its commitment to 5G development as part of a wider government-funded project elsewhere. In April, it announced it would provide the private and public network connectivity to Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire for testing connected and autonomous vehicles.

One of the six government-funded 5G testbeds, the AutoAir project aims to validate and develop CAVs using 5G technology, as well as intelligent transport systems for roads and railways. It all ties into 5G's low latency and high capacity which should mean data is sent faster, thereby allowing for improved road safety and reduced traffic congestion.

Project Darwin appears to build further upon this concept. It'll be interesting to see what comes of it in the next few years. We'll update as we find out more.

Tech/games journalist with 10 years of experience.

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