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July 1, 2019

How ‘Project Darwin’ could pave the way for connected and autonomous vehicles in the UK: CTO of O2

By ITU News

Telecommunications services provider O2 and the European Space Agency recently announced their collaboration in support of ‘Project Darwin’, a four-year trial programme set to pioneer next-generation connectivity solutions for connected and autonomous vehicles (‘CAVs’). The project brings together Oxford University, Glasgow University, Hispasat, Darwin Innovation Group Oxford and the UK Space Agency to explore new technology and end-to-end connectivity solutions, including 5G and satellite communications.

ITU News caught up with Brendan O’Reilly, CTO of O2, to discuss what this means for the future of transport.

How will Project Darwin feed into the wider UK strategy to unlock the possibilities of 5G for customers and the UK economy?

This project aims to test new technology and end-to-end (E2E) connectivity solutions, including 5G and satellite communications, to ultimately create a new CAV industry vertical.

This is part of O2’s wider strategy of helping to create a 5G economy by collaborating with British businesses, organisations, like-minded partners and start-ups to help shape the use cases and drive the benefits that we all want to see from 5G.

Project Darwin brings together a mix of cross-industry actors and academia: why is this type of cross-sectoral partnership important for end-to-end connectivity solutions, including satellite communications and 5G services?

There are many brilliant researchers at universities that specialise in 5G, satellite communication and autonomous vehicles. There are also many great initiatives from small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and industry.

All are fantastic in their own right but being part of a wider ecosystem is the best way to maximise success.

The complexity of the connectivity solution requires a wide, broad range of skills to solve the technical challenges faced by the project.

“Projects like Darwin are essential to explore next-generation connectivity solutions and facilitate the creation of new business models.”

We’re connecting two academic institutions and their work to input into the business modelling and organizational design of the project (University of Oxford and University of Glasgow).

Combining them with a satellite communications provider and a SME (Darwin Innovation Group) with cutting edge technology in terrestrial–satellite communication and 5G business propositions gives the partnership the most powerful opportunity to design a successful E2E solution for a new industry vertical.

What opportunities does this project hold for the future of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs)?

Transport is a key sector that could benefit massively from 5G’s capabilities of enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-low latency and the ability to connect many things in massive Internet of Things (IoT). Project Darwin is one example.

Research we commissioned last year found that CAVs are expected to generate unprecedented levels of data – up to 4 terabytes per hour. Current mobile networks don’t have the infrastructure in place to support all this data.

Projects like Darwin are essential to explore next-generation connectivity solutions and facilitate the creation of new business models.

Another CAV project we are involved in is Millbrook – a vehicle proving ground that facilitates test and validation services to customers in the automotive, transport, tyre, petrochemical, defence and security industries.

O2’s 5G network will be powering the CAV testing at Millbrook as part of an agreement with the AutoAir consortium.

Tests at Millbrook have already shown a self-driving racecar transmit 4K-video whilst speeding round the site at 160Mph. These tests demonstrate how 5G can support intelligent transport systems and help efficiently manage future vehicle traffic flow as well as in car and train entertainment use cases.

“The data we are collecting will be used to inform government policies on autonomous driving.”

And out on the public roads, we are separately also part of the Midlands Future Mobility project where we are working with Wireless Infrastructure Group to provide the connectivity along a 50-mile route that runs through Birmingham and Coventry to test autonomous vehicles.

The insights we are gathering have wider positive implications for other forms of travel such as buses and trains.

What are the main challenges that lie ahead? (for project Darwin)

Darwin’s focus will be in providing a ubiquitous mobility solution that can be offered to enterprises, providing them with a full E2E business model in addition to the technology solution.

“Alignment of 5G and satellite standards will support integration of terrestrial and satellite solutions and provide full ubiquitous connectivity for the end customer.”

In order for the solution to be fully commercialised, we need infrastructure to follow the pace of development of our proof-of-concept or to be ahead of it. Tested at Millbrook proving ground, Darwin CAVs will be ready for testing on the roads. Harwell campus provides us with all necessary laboratory equipment for testing the satellite communication and our own center of excellence in Harwell will provide the Lab for the 5G testing.

The data we are collecting will be used to inform government policies on autonomous driving. Current policy is level 3 autonomous driving. We are aiming for level 5 where there is no human interaction required. Achieving this requires a number of successful test cases and licences to run the tests on the roads.

How do international 5G and satellite standards help support this type of innovation?

Standardisation helps ensure compatibility, interoperability. In turn, this drives innovation. (V2X and V2V standards are prime example).

Alignment of 5G and satellite standards will support integration of terrestrial and satellite solutions and provide full ubiquitous connectivity for the end customer.

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How 'Project Darwin' could pave the way for connected and autonomous vehicles in the UK: CTO of O2

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